Google and Qualcomm are teaming up to enable an extended support period for flagship Android smartphones. Qualcomm, with Google’s help, will now support its chipsets for three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates, enabling better-than-Pixel tier for all future Android phones, provided your OEM is willing to go along. to work. This policy starts with the flagship Snapdragon 888, but even lower chips will be supported. Qualcomm PR tells us “the plan is to roll this out to all Snapdragon chipsets, including the lower ones, but starting with the new Snapdragon 888 platform.”
Part of the challenge of Android updates is the continuous chain of software retention that must be maintained across companies, from the Android repository to your phone. Google and Qualcomm now say they’re willing to pass the update baton to OEMs for three major updates and four years of security updates, but OEMs will need to update their Android skins and ship working builds to each of their devices. If they don’t, at least we now know who to blame.
Qualcomm and Google’s blog posts both contain the same wording, that they “will support 4 Android OS versions and 4 years of security updates.” Read that quote carefully and you’ll see two different units of measurement happening there, which some people have misinterpreted. While there are four years of security updates, the two companies include the first release of Android in their quote of “4 Android OS versions,” so it’s three years of major Android updates, not four years. We double-checked with Qualcomm and came back: “Qualcomm supports the launch version + 3 OS upgrades, for a total of 4 major Android OS versions. Snapdragon 888 supports Android 11, 12, 13 and 14.”
This is the same update plan that Pixels got and what Samsung promised, but with another year of security updates. Keep in mind that Qualcomm is also bringing this level of support to low-end devices, so while this is only a small step for flagship phones, lower-end phones can get significantly more support.
Google’s blog post goes into detail about how it’s made updating easier for SoC manufacturers like Qualcomm. Project Treble’s re-architecture of Android split the OS in two, separating the OS from the hardware with a modular interface. This makes it easy to run the same build of Android on multiple pieces of hardware (this is called a Generic System Image, or GSI). While that makes things easier if you’re an OEM building an Android skin, apparently Google was bulking up update requirements for SoC vendors.
SoC vendors are partially responsible for the “vendor” implementation in Project Treble – the lower half of the OS split that contains the hardware support. While things above the Project Treble split (the software) guaranteed backward compatibility, the hardware support was not. For each SoC, Qualcomm would have to maintain a vendor implementation for each software history permutation. That means one for phones launched with Android 10, another for Android 11, and a third for devices launched with Android 10 and upgraded to Android 11.
This system did not scale well. Today, Google is vaguely announcing changes to Project Treble that will allow Qualcomm to support new and upgrade devices with a single vendor deployment. It’s also (again, vaguely) come up with some kind of scheme to let Qualcomm use the same vendor implementation for multiple SoCs, which will reduce the update work even more.
Faster updates happen slowly
Google also takes the time to update us on the status of the Android update situation. Android 11 sees ever so slightly fastest adoption rate ever, surpassing previous release (previously fastest ever), at least in terms of raw users (I doubt the percentage would be much different, as I doubt the total number of active Android users ). users has changed in a year.) Thanks to Project Treble, the Android 10 card turned into a bad hockey stick about 100 days after launch, and we’re not at that stage yet with Android 11.
Of course, this still doesn’t bring Android in line with what Apple has done, which is five years of major OS updates and seven years of security updates for iPhones. However, Apple is the SoC seller, the OS developer and the device manufacturer, so it has less logistics to work out and it doesn’t have to deal with maintaining profit margins every step of the way.
Any announcement of an Android update feels like a small step to improve the situation, and nothing will be a panacea apart from blowing up the entire system. Pretty much every sentence in this article could end with the caveat “if your OEM will cooperate”, and for many that last link in the update chain will be the critical one. If your OEM doesn’t want to play ball, you know what to do, right? Vote with your wallet!