Why your Android mobile is not updated

Since this week, there is officially a new version of the Android operating system in the market, Android 12, which, despite what the number implies is really t

Why your Android mobile is not updated

Since this week, there is officially a new version of the Android operating system in the market, Android 12, which, despite what the number implies is really the 19th iteration of the world's most popular operating system. Google has not yet begun to update its phones (it is expected to do it on October 19) but the source code has been published and is also in the hands, also, of the different manufacturers.

The new version is accompanied by a radical change in the interface, with a new visual language baptized as "material you" that adapts to each user, and also has several novelties on privacy and security.

But not everyone will see it on their phones.

Despite the efforts that Google has made and manufacturers in recent years to try to improve the adoption of newer and advanced versions of the operating system, for most users the process of updating an Android smartphone remains confusing or directly impossible.

The reasons are several, but the main one is that most manufacturers make modifications and customizations about the operating system, adding their own services with a customization layer.

According to the manufacturer these layers can be more or less complex, but often changes are deep enough to baptize the operating system with a completely different name.

These modifications have to be updated and adapted to each model when Google launches a new version of the base operating system. In high-end phones the additional effort is justified by the profit margin they leave. In the cheapest, however, it is a more complex proposition, unless they are only small cosmetic changes.

Google has tried to facilitate the task with several strategies. In 2017, for example, Project Treble announced, a new hierarchy within the components of the operating system with layers that isolate the modifications of the different manufacturers.

Thanks to it, it starts to be more common to hear that "three years of guaranteed updates" when buying a terminal, regardless of the brand, although it is an affirmation that does not guarantee that these updates are available from day one. You often have to wait months until you can receive them.

Google's pixels tend to be the first to be updated, for obvious reasons. In the coming weeks the Pixel 3 models will receive the update (Pixel and Pixel 2, launched to the market in 2016 and 2017, they remain outside).

Manufacturers that barely make modifications to the operating system, such as Motorola or Nokia, usually respond quickly to updates.

This year Asus, OPPO, Xiaomi, ZTE and Oneplus have participated in the Beta phase of Android 12 with some of their phones, so at least those models should also receive the update quickly.

Samsung, finally, has confirmed that its ONE UI 4 operating system will be based Android 12, and has already begun to reach their phones in some territories. More than 70 of its products (both tablets and smartphones) around the world will receive this version of the short-term operating system.

But the absence of an official calendar and the enormous amount of products receiving late updates (or that do not receive them directly) generates enormous fragmentation in the market. There are hundreds of telephone models in use with more than a dozen different operating systems.

Google stopped publishing figures of adoption of the different versions of its operating system in 2019. Instead, it now explains developers who can get an idea of the compatibility they will have their applications in the Android Studio development tool.

But according to this tool, Android 10 is present only by 8.2% of the active devices. Android 11, the version presented last year, in less than 1%. Android 11 has had a good adoption in developed markets, such as the US, where it is present on one in five devices, but in the aggregate of telephones around the world is as if it did not exist. Most phones, more than 90%, use Android 9 or earlier versions of the operating system.

By comparing, Apple launched the latest version of the IOS operating system, IOS 15, on September 20. Its adoption is somewhat slower than IOS 14, but even so, two weeks after the launch, it is already present in more than 23% of active iPhones. The previous version, iOS 14, is at 70% of the phones and only 5.6% use older versions of the operating system, according to the Mixpanel consultancy

The good news is that this phenomenon is no longer a problem as big as a few years ago because Google has passed part of the components that use the different apps to work on parts of the operating system that are updated frequently in the background.

He has not done it only with strategies like Project Treble. Many of the different modules needed by apps depend on Google Play, which Google can update much more frequently.

Although the Android version that the phone uses does not change, you can continue running the most important apps and that, after all, is what matters to most users. Google, in addition, continues to launch updates and security patches for previous versions of the operating system.

But fragmentation slows down developers, who can not make use of the latest APIs and system novelties without reducing the potential number of consumers a lot. In the case of Android 10 this limitation leaves many functions related to machine learning, for example.

The result at the end, is that the quality of the apps remains. Except large developers with very popular applications, such as Facebook, most apps choose to optimize the common minimum denominator that is a bar that is very, very low.

Updated Date: 16 October 2021, 09:27

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