Google and Qualcomm are teaming up to enable a longer support window for major Android smartphones. Qualcomm, with the help of Google, will now support its chipset for three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates, allowing for a better-pixel level for all future Android phones, provided your OEMs collaborate. Be ready The policy is starting with the flagship Snapdragon 888, but even lower-end chips will be supported. Qualcomm PR tells us “the plan is to roll out all Snapdragon chipsets, including lower-tier ones, but to roll out the new Snapdragon 888 platform.”
Part of the challenge of Android updates is the constant series of software custodies that many companies have to maintain from Android repositories to your phone. Google and Qualcomm now say they are willing to pass the update baton to OEMs for three major updates and a four-year security update, but OEMs actually need to have their Android skins and ship builds built for each of their devices. Will need to be updated. If they don’t, we at least know who to blame now.
Both Qualcomm and Google’s blog posts contain the same fantasizing, that they will “support 4 Android OS versions and 4-year security updates.” Read that quote closely and you will see two different units of measurement occurring there, which some have misunderstood. While there are four-year security updates, the two companies are counting the initial release of Android in their citation of “4 Android OS versions”, so it’s major Android updates, not four years, but three years. We double-checked with Qualcomm and got back “Qualcomm will support launch version + 3 OS upgrades, for a total of 4 Android Android OS versions. Snapdragon 888 will support Android 11, 12, 13 and 14.”
This is the same update plan that Pixels has received and what Samsung has promised, but security updates with another year. Keep in mind, Qualcomm is also bringing this level of support to low-end devices, so while it is only a baby step for flagship phones, lower-end phones can see much larger support windows.
Google’s blog post goes into detail about how it has made updating easier for SoC manufacturers like Qualcomm. Android’s Project Treble re-architecture split the OS in half, separating the OS from hardware with a modular interface. This makes it easy to run the same build of Android across multiple pieces of hardware (this is called a Generic System Image or GSI). Things get easier when you’re building an Android skin, Google was apparently meeting update requirements at SoC vendors.
SoC vendors are partially responsible for the “vendor” implementation in Project Treble – the bottom half of the OS partition includes hardware support. While things above Project Treble Split (software) were guaranteed backward compatibility, there was no hardware support. For each SoC, Qualcomm will need to maintain a vendor implementation for each software history numbering. This means one for phones launching with Android 10, one for Android 11, and a third for devices launching with Android 10, and upgraded to Android 11.
This system did not create a good scale. Today, Google is vaguely announcing changes to Project Treble that will let Qualcomm support new and upgrade devices with a single vendor implementation. It has also (again, inexplicably) made some sort of plan to allow Qualcomm to use the same vendor implementation across multiple SoCs, which would cut its update work even further.
Fast updates are happening slowly
Google is also taking this time to update us on the status of Android updates. Android 11 is looking at a sometimes-slightly-too-fast adoption rate and is lagging past releases (fastest ever before), at least in terms of raw users (I doubt that percentage Would be very different because I suspect the total number of active Android users has changed in a year.) Thanks to Project Treble, the Android 10 chart turned into a rogue hockey stick almost 100 days after its launch, and we Android 11’s We are not yet at that level.
Of course, this still doesn’t bring Android in line with what Apple is doing, which is a five-year major OS update and a seven-year security update for iPhones. Apple is a SoC vendor, OS developer, and device manufacturer, however, it has less logistics to work with, and does not need to preserve profit margins at every stage of the process.
The announcement of every Android update feels like a small step towards improving the situation, and a silver bullet will be nothing more than blowing up the entire system. Every sentence in this article may end with a plot of “if your OEM wants to cooperate,” and for many, the final episode in the update series will be important. If your OEM doesn’t want to play ball, then, you know what to do, right? Vote with your wallet!