Shaming OEMs won't fix Android's biggest problem

Google keeps a list that ranks smartphone OEMs based on how fast they push Android updates out to devices, and there are reports that it might make this list public.

One of Android's biggest problems is that it's hard for smartphone and tablet users to get their hands on new updates and releases. In under a year Apple can expect the uptake of its latest version of iOS to top 85 percent, but in a similar timeframe the newest Android release might make it onto fewer than 10 percent of devices.

Google's taken a few stabs at shortening the time it takes for updates to be sent to devices, from creating the short-lived Android Update Alliance, to delivering many of the updates itself via Google Play Services. Google has also been working with carriers to try to reduce the amount of time it takes for them to process updates, and to try to get them to drop the process altogether for security patches.

A recent report by Bloomberg claims that Google is preparing to turn up the pressure on hardware makers by publishing the internal data it holds regarding how long it takes hardware OEMs to push out updates.

In other words, after attempts to work with OEMs have failed, Google might try shaming them into action.

While I believe that this is something that Google needs to fix, shaming OEMs won't help. Here are some reasons why:

  • The majority of end users -- you know, the people who buy the Android devices -- are never going to know about or care about this data.
  • Savvy buyers already know about Android's update problems and either don't care or buy Nexus devices.
  • No one in the chain -- Google, OEMs, carriers -- really care about making old devices last for any length of time. Google's main focus is new device activations, the OEMs only care about selling users new devices, and the carriers only care about locking users into contracts.
  • The carriers are just as much -- of not a bigger -- obstacle to getting updates to users.
  • OEMs are already working on razor-thin margins, and pushing them to support devices for several years down the line could push them into the red.

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