Home > technology > gadgets > Why Android updates stop beyond a point

New Delhi: Rahul Kumar, a 31-year-old senior software engineer at a Noida-based MNC, owns a Moto X Play that runs on Android Nougat, introduced nearly 21 months ago. His phone is unlikely to receive any more OS upgrades, so he has no option but to invest in a new device that runs on the latest Android version. Kumar is simply a case in point. About 94% of Android smartphones run Android 7, or older versions, according to a report on Android Developers Blog, published in May 2018.

The problem is that the Android ecosystem involves multiple stakeholders. After Google releases the code for the latest version of Android, it is customised by the chipmaker for various versions of chipsets. Then it is passed on to the phone makers so they can optimise them with their custom user interfaces (UIs). “For OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), the underlying issue is of economics, including huge time and cost implications, for updating older versions of Android. OEMs have to add a lot of code to Android to bring in new features, and they have multiple devices to develop for," says Prabhu Ram, head (industry intelligence group) at research firm CyberMedia Research.

Users with older Android smartphones miss out on a number of useful features. For instance, the picture-in-picture mode feature in Android Oreo allows users to adjust the size of the app window and move it to any part of the screen unlike the not-so-convenient split screen option in Android Nougat. Besides, app developers stop supporting older versions. For instance, WhatsApp recently said its app won’t work on phones running Android Gingerbread or older versions.

Shambhu Yadav, 32, an official in the home ministry, who uses the LG X Screen running on Android Marshmallow, does not care much about the version of OS as long as apps on it work smoothly and the phone has all the features he wants. “But for a millennial interested in the latest rich features, smartphones with older versions of Android would set them back," says Ram.

Another issue is that phones with custom UIs— like Xiaomi’s MIUI or Asus’s ZenUI—have unique features not available even on the latest version of Android.

“Custom UIs add superb usability extensions to the experience that a stock Android OS phone cannot offer. This bridges the gap between older OS versions and key new features that even the latest stock Android isn’t able to offer," said Dinesh Sharma, director (mobile product centre) at Asus India.

Google routinely rolls out security patches to protect Android phones against new vulnerabilities. But if phone makers do not make these updates available to users, they put the device at risk.

Google’s recently launched Project Treble is aimed at making chipset makers and device manufacturers work on updates simultaneously. So if your phone does not have the latest Android version, you may want to reconsider the phone brand.

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