Google once again tries to put pressure on OEMs and carriers to update Android phones

If there’s one issue that has haunted Android and Google throughout the years, it’s fragmentation. Time and time again, device manufacturers fail to update or even launch new devices with the latest available version of Android. This leads to users missing out on features and using less secure devices.

Google is once again putting pressure on its partners to make sure that end-users get proper support and timely updates for their devices. In a report from Bloomberg, citing industry sources, Google is mentioned to have created an internal list ranking OEMs by their effectiveness at upgrading and supporting devices. The list could also be made public in an effort to shame or warn users off of some manufacturers who fail in their obligations.

Google is also taking steps by itself to ensure better delivery of its software. For example, one of the newest features of Android announced at I/O, Instant Apps, will work with Android versions as old as Jellybean.

The company says it’s also working together with carriers to improve the time it takes for them to approve software updates. Carriers are widely seen as a complete roadblock in the industry, due to their complete obstinance and lack of interest in delivering timely updates to their users. The only companies to have gotten around carriers have been Apple, thanks to the iPhone’s enormous appeal, and Microsoft with its tiny, tiny market share and Insider programs. But Google has been continuously stymied by carriers.

While the company’s efforts may sound like good news for consumers, it’s by no means Google’s first attempt at improving updates. The company has tried time and time again to push its manufacturing partners into supporting their devices better, but the job is made very difficult by the fact that Google and OEMs have fundamentally different business strategies.

Version Codename API Last month This month Change
2.2 Froyo 8 0.1% 0.1% -
2.3.3 - 2.3.7 Gingerbread 10 2.6% 2.2% -0.4%
4.0.3 - 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich 15 2.2% 2.0% -0.2%
4.1.x Jelly Bean 16 7.8% 7.2% -0.6%
4.2.x 17 10.5% 10.0% -0.5%
4.3 18 3.0% 2.9% -0.1%
4.4 KitKat 19 33.4% 32.5% -0.9%
5.0 Lollipop 21 16.4% 16.2% -0.2%
5.1 22 19.4% 19.4% -
6.0 Marshmallow 23 4.6% 7.5% 2.9%

On one hand, Google wants all of its 1.4 billion users to be on the latest version of Android, no matter the device they use. That’s because Google makes money when users have access to its Play Store and all of its services and search programs. On the other hand, OEMs need to spend money when they support older devices, while their primary revenue stream comes from selling new phones. Supporting older models is seen as delaying new purchases, fundamentally hurting the OEM.

And nowhere can this issue be seen better than in Google’s own OS usage numbers. According to its most recent results only 7.5% of devices are running Marshmallow, the most recent version of Android, while a majority of users are still stuck on a version two to three years old.

Another true test of this new push will be the launch of Android N, the operating system’s seventh major version. Android 7, or N, is expected to launch this fall, though a preview version has been available for months now. Having put out such an advance copy of the upcoming OS, Google hopes to spur OEMs and carriers on to adopt the new system quickly.

The results of all these efforts remain to be seen in the months ahead.

Source: Bloomberg

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