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Even New Phones Are No Longer Guaranteed To Have the Latest Version of Android (theverge.com) 158

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: The OnePlus 5T and Razer Phone are two fundamentally different devices, which are nonetheless united by one unfortunate downside: both of them are going on sale this month without the latest version of Android on board. OnePlus will tell you that this issue is down to its extremely stringent testing process, while Razer offers a similar boilerplate about working as fast as possible to deliver Android Oreo. But we're now three months removed from Google's grand Oreo launch, timed to coincide with this summer's total eclipse, and all of these excuses are starting to ring hollow. Why do Android companies think they can ship new devices without the latest and best version of the operating system on board? The notorious fragmentation problem with Android has always been that not every device gets the latest update at the same time, and many devices get stuck on older software without ever seeing an update at all. What's changed now is that the "one version behind the newest and best" phenomenon is starting to infect brand new phones as well. The 5T and Razer Phone are just two examples; there's also Xiaomi, which just launched its Mi Mix 2 in Spain with 2016's Android Nougat as the operating system.
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Even New Phones Are No Longer Guaranteed To Have the Latest Version of Android

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  • I'd say most Android phones sold in Canada are at least one major Android version behind the latest.

    • Does it matter (Score:5, Interesting)

      by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @05:03PM (#55572965)
      Even if it is news, does it really matter? Consumers seem to be perfectly fine with an older version of the OS or they don't actually care at all. If consumers don't care, then manufacturers don't have a lot of incentive to spend resources on something that won't improve sales.

      It's not as though you're stuck with that option as is the case with iPhones. There are still Android variants that cater to the people who want the latest version and longer support for upgrades. That those devices tend not to sell as well suggests that most consumers don't care or have much higher priorities when it comes to making purchasing decisions.
      • Re:Does it matter (Score:4, Interesting)

        by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @06:26PM (#55573483)

        >"Even if it is news, does it really matter?"

        One of the things that helps is that Google has made their services and clients and apps upgradable. They moved a lot of things out of the base "OS" and into modular packages. So even if you are not on a recent Android, you might still have the most recent Play Services, Maps, Gmail, Gboard, YouTube, Search, Contacts, Phone app, Earth, Chrome, Connectivity Services, Keep, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Fit, Wear, Photos, Calendar, Auto, Pay, GNews, Talkback, Sound Search, messenger, etc, etc, etc, etc. This helps a lot with consistency and security. Of course, this doesn't solve all the problems, but it does help.

      • It's not as though you're stuck with that option as is the case with iPhones.

        You are soooo right Apple sent a bunch of thiugs to my place last night and beat the shit out of mem because I hand't run updates for a week.

        Your howaboutism is strong. Believe it or not, this is a story about Android, not Apple, and you just justified buying a new phone with an outdated Android OS on it. Bravo!

      • Re:Does it matter (Score:4, Insightful)

        by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @07:44PM (#55573839)

        Consumers seem to be perfectly fine with an older version of the OS or they don't actually care at all.

        Mobile phone OSes are approaching computer OS levels of interest. They are mature, feature rich, and quite frankly upgrades lack killer features which make them enticing. In the early days of mobile OSes we used to get excited for these due to lacking features and functionality in the existing OS. But really I have yet to see a feature that makes me want Oreo enough to care about not having it. Same goes for Nougat, I'm actually a few versions behind and just don't give a shit.

        The important part is security, and security has been decoupled from OS versions since Android 4.4 meaning you can still be running a Kitkat system and be fully up to date with all security patches.

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          Mobile phone OSes [...] are mature, feature rich, and quite frankly upgrades lack killer features which make them enticing.

          Major mobile operating systems only recently got the ability to show multiple applications side-by-side on one tablet screen.

          • by murdocj ( 543661 )

            Why would I want to see two apps at once on my phone? That works fine on the desktop, not so good on the small form factor.

            • by tepples ( 727027 )

              Major mobile operating systems only recently got the ability to show multiple applications side-by-side on one tablet screen.

              Why would I want to see two apps at once on my phone?

              It isn't about your phone as much as it is about your tablet, which runs the same operating system as your phone and has a screen with two to four times as much surface area.

          • Major mobile operating systems only recently got the ability to show multiple applications side-by-side on one tablet screen.

            Not quite. Firstly multitasking on a small phone is a pointless, and tablet devices have had this functionality for a long time. It just wasn't part of default Android.

            Anyway that feature was introduced in Nougat, so why would you worry about not having Oreo again?

            • by tepples ( 727027 )

              Anyway that feature was introduced in Nougat, so why would you worry about not having Oreo again?

              Because tablets are still being sold with Marshmallow or earlier. Someone who receives one as a birthday or Christmas gift has no opportunity to specify a particular model.

              • Because tablets are still being sold with Marshmallow or earlier. Someone who receives one as a birthday or Christmas gift has no opportunity to specify a particular model.

                So someone missing a feature that wasn't advertised would bitch about it when getting it as a present? Again, my Galaxy S Tab had split screen back in the Kit Kat days. If it were a killer feature to you, then buy accordingly, or be one of those people who complain about a present, at least you won't get another one that way. In general it just isn't a requirement, especially with fast application switching having been a thing since the early days of tablets.

                • by tepples ( 727027 )

                  In general it just isn't a requirement, especially with fast application switching having been a thing since the early days of tablets.

                  How does one efficiently take notes on a document he's reading if he cannot see both the document and the area in which to enter notes?

                  • Err, start with not on a tablet, or then go with what I originally said: Buy the one with the killer feature advertised, like most tablets premium which don't run Oreo, or Nougat.

                    You're complaining about a very very specific problem experienced by a very small subset of power users and even smaller subset of which may have been silly enough to buy the wrong device or unlucky enough to be gifted one.

                    If someone gives me a Ford Mustang, my first reaction is not that I can't take it to the beach. Manufacturers

        • I'm actually a few versions behind and just don't give a shit.

          The important part is security, and security has been decoupled from OS versions since Android 4.4 meaning you can still be running a Kitkat system and be fully up to date with all security patches.

          Not giving a shit is fine, but android security is not really patched. Only (play store/ google) apps are.

      • I am just so sick of code thrash, they've tried every paradigm three times why aren't they ever ready to choose?!

    • I'd say most Android phones sold in Canada are at least one major Android version behind the latest.

      It's been that way in the US too.

      I think the article is referring to new flagship phones. The kind people pay big bucks for. However, OnePlus has historically been a budget brand.

      • by thsths ( 31372 )

        Yes, the news is that top of the range phones now ship with outdated Android versions. One of the hallmarks of a top phone used to be a current Android version.

        But I do wonder whether this has anything to do with Google selling their own top phone now. They may not give competitors early access to new versions, and I can see why it might take 3 months to do the engineering and testing for an upgrade.

    • Canada gets the models they can't sell in Yankee Land
    • Itâ(TM)s not. The Verge is just trolling for clicks. Itâ(TM)s been the rule (not the exception) that new Android devices that ship in Q4 feature the prior OS release, since Android has had a tendency to ship their new releases in late Q3 or early Q4, giving vendors little into no time to test and certify with it before shipping a new device in the same time period.
  • Latest = best? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @04:33PM (#55572721) Homepage Journal
    The latest version is not necessarily the best version. Just look at iOS11!
    • by dk20 ( 914954 )

      which one? My Apple SE seems to have rapid-fire upgraded the last few weeks..

      Apple Releases iOS 11.1.2 With Fix for Unresponsive iPhone X

    • Indeed. Android 8 pretty much ruined my Nexus 5X. This update was the reason I decided to unlock the bootloader for the first time ever to flash the final Nougat ROM.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We need laws that require at a minimum, five years of security updates from the time the phone is initially released. Better yet, require that the OS can be updated directly from the creator of the OS (Google). Also mandate that users must be allowed to remove any unwanted apps, to eliminate bloatware that can introduce its own security risks.

    • And also a way to install previous releases of the OS, to prevent something like iOS 11 and many more iOS versions before that.

    • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

      Why do you need a law to do that? Apple does it already. My iPhone 5 has had updates up until iOS 11, which is roughly five years.

      • So... from what you'+re saying I understand that if Apple does it, you don't need a law about it.

        • If there's a market need for devices that are supported for five years, Apple is filling that need.

          Apparently there isn't such a need for Android devices with similar support. If there was, a company would be filling it. So far, it seems, the only company trying to fill this need, Cyanogen, has gone out of business.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Well there are two main classes of abuses consumer protection laws are supposed to address:

          1. When an entire industry decides to make standard terms that are grossly unfavorable to the consumer and largely rely on the consumer's ignorance or indifference until the issue comes up..
          2. When bad actors try to sell goods and services that are of much lower quality and more harmful than people reasonably could expect. This is a floating scale from sub-standard to outright scams and frauds.

          That Apple delivers many

  • Apple devices (Score:3, Informative)

    by Quzak ( 1047922 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @04:40PM (#55572773)
    Say what you will about Apple and their devices, but I always have access to the latest version of macOS and iOS.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Say what you want about Apple, but when you don't buy their latest gadgets, you're stuck with older software.
      I can't install the latest version of iOS on my iPhone 4. The latest version of macOS runs like crap on my mid-2010 Mac mini.

      Stop making generalizations about Apple as if they're better than others. They're not, especially in the last few years.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The iPhone 4 is over 7 years old. I doubt iOS11 would run fast enough on it to be useful, even if you shoe-horned it on to the phone.

        • by Leuf ( 918654 )
          It's fine that you can't always install the latest OS on older technology. It's not fine to break the software on that older technology so that it now requires an app that only runs on the newer OS that you can't install. They broke podcasts on my ipod touch by moving them to an app that I can't install.
          • by leonbev ( 111395 )

            There are tons of standalone iOS Podcast apps, though. Overcast is a good one.

            • by Leuf ( 918654 )
              And it needs an even later version of iOS. It is possible to get podcasts to play by downloading them on itunes and then syncing the ipod but that's a pain. Generally I'm doing something and I think, hey I could listen to a podcast while I'm doing this and I can't just get it right then so I never bother.
      • I have a Mac Mini 2012 model, so we'll see how the latest macOS runs on it - I haven't yet upgraded. I suspect it will be helped by the fact that I have 8GB of RAM and an SSD (I bought this as an inexpensive Mac dev machine), not to mention it's got a quad-code, unlike later Minis.

        As far as I've been able to tell when researching the subject for my next smartphone purchase, Apple actually seems to offer updates and security patches longer than most smartphone makers: around five to six years or so, compare

        • If it is a Google Nexus device and you want to run stock you can get updates... forever so far!

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            If it is a Google Nexus device and you want to run stock you can get updates... forever so far!

            Forever? The Nexus 7 (2012) tablet [wikipedia.org] got updates through Android 5 "Lollipop". And then they stopped because Lollipop caused multi-second lag in many cases when apps were blocking on accessing its slow SSD.

            • You include a link, but it doesn't say what you claim.

              I have the 2012 Nexus 7, and it stopped getting full-OS updates, but it never stopped getting security updates! And Google moved their services to apps, so those are all updated.

              The slow SSD was fixed in 5.1 according to your link.

              Apparently, depending one what apps were installed before the update, some people were still having performance problems, but that went away if they did factory reset, so it probably was just the apps doing it.

              My daily-use tabl

              • by tepples ( 727027 )

                The slow SSD was fixed in 5.1 according to your link.

                My experience owning a Nexus 7 (2012) that had been updated to 5.1 contradicts the link's claim that the slow SSD was fixed in 5.1. The SSD in 5.1 was still far slower than the SSD in 4.4.

                Apparently, depending one what apps were installed before the update, some people were still having performance problems, but that went away if they did factory reset, so it probably was just the apps doing it.

                How often does a Nexus 7 (2012) need to be factory reset in order to prevent apps from causing this problem?

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        Behold, the power of the Hatorade Distortion Field! Where the latest operating system not running on a 7 year old device is totally the same thing as brand new devices not running the current operating system.

  • A problem that google needs to work harder to resolve. I do not believe that google does not have the knowledge and the clout to resolve this issue.
    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      I don't think its knowledge, Google has some limitations due to antitrust laws but really its the lack of incentives. You are not the manufacturers customer - the carrier is, and the carrier doesn't give a shit about security vulnerabilities affecting the user. Even when updates are issued for older devices often the updates affect performance negatively, this includes Google itself and from what I understand Apple.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Shipping a new phone with an OS that's less than 3 months old is not a problem. How long ago did they have their feature / OS Freeze to get everything built, tested and ready to go?

      I don't know about other phones, but my OnePlus 3 is still getting OTA updates. It came out over a year ago and just had an update in October. It shipped with 6.0.1 and is now running 7.1.1. Give them a bit of time for some more QA with their specific hardware and I'm sure you'll have Oreo on it early next year.

    • by Voyager529 ( 1363959 ) <voyager529.yahoo@com> on Saturday November 18, 2017 @09:58AM (#55576497)

      On what basis?

      Play Services makes most of the APIs available to older versions of Android. Most OEM customizations of Android include security-only patches. On a sidebar on this topic, while carrier-damaging hacks typically involve tower-side security measures and can be implemented that way, data-siphoning security issues that would actually harm consumers are considered 'core functionality' of the OS.

      This "fragmentation" battle cry makes no sense, since monolithic install bases are relatively new and almost exclusive to iOS. Windows hasn't had it, Linux hasn't had it, and OSX only recently started doing it (and only on 'blessed' hardware models).

      Despite this, software developers managed to write and support software for nearly three decades before the notion of "everyone running the same OS" was a meaningful notion. To this day, millions of desktops run the near-decade-old Windows 7, which happily keeps their hardware running and their applications starting.

      So, I pose the question: why is fragmentation such a terrible thing? How do consumers lose out by not running Android Oreo? How is this such a terrible fate that it requires Google to adopt Apple's iron fist on the mobile market? Because personally, if I had my druthers, I'd be running Jelly Bean, or maybe Kitkat, on my phone.

      Really, shouldn't the argument be that phones should be able to run a bit more like PCs, with more standardized OS installs that would allow consumers to choose which version to run, without needing to do all kinds of rooting and warranty-voiding operations in the process? I sincerely do not understand the reason why so many are of the persuasion that the ideal environment for computing devices is a monoculture.

    • A problem that Microsoft needs to work harder to resolve. I do not believe that Microsoft does not have the knowledge and the clout to resolve this issue.

  • None of them do a very good job at their primary purpose, either. You know...making phone calls.
  • I would be ok with a phone that never get's upgraded to the "latest and greatest" OS, so long as the original OS was built into the phone in a way that makes me happy with the phone. There really weren't any significant must have features that any mobile OS has added in quite a while. And every App in the Play Store will run just fine on Nougat. Honestly, I would like Android to roll out an update system more like traditional Linux OS's where there is a large OS update that is highly reliable with real Long
  • What version of Android a phone is running is pretty far down on my list of things that are important to me in a phone.

    • What version of Android a phone is running is pretty far down on my list of things that are important to me in a phone.

      I still see phones on shelves that have 4 on them, and plenty of cheap tablets on Amazon do. Now, imagine grandma wants to buy a present for your kid and sees this great deal, a $50 device... She is too concerned about too many other people on her holiday list to bother pulling out her flagship phone just for the one kid, and just dumps it from the bargain bin to her cart without Googling^W thinking twice.

      Funny thing, you can s/grandma/ with most younger people, and the outcome is still the same... your kid

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @05:12PM (#55573031)

    not a problem if older version is getting regular patches, reliability with security is the best, not "the bleeding edge".

    That kind of thinking is not "infecting" anything, it's proper.

    why did the summary use loaded words like "unfortunate"?

  • I think people are mistakenly equating being on the latest release with being "up to date".

    As long as the version you are on is still getting security updates you are on the latest version of your release line. This is all we need, and what we need to push vendors to support. If your hardware is good enough to support the latest release, you should be pushing your vendor for an update, but it's not wholly necessary.

    • by nnull ( 1148259 )
      What security updates? Often times, you need to be on the latest version to even get security updates with a lot of Android devices.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Windows Phones weren't being updated by the OEMs but by Microsoft and it showed. I feel that if Windows Phones had managed to get a decent market share that Google would have been forced to notice and impose something more under their control from OEMs instead of the mess we have now.

    I'm not going to say this made Windows Phone great or anything. I didn't hate it, even preferred Bing maps GPS vs Google Maps but ended up going back to Android because of many apps that I couldn't find or weren't actively

  • by dabadab ( 126782 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @05:51PM (#55573259)

    New phones were never "Guaranteed To Have the Latest Version of Android." In fact, it is actually rather common for new phones to ship with an older version of Android and understandably so: the manufacturers need time to get the new drivers from the chipset manufacturers, pack the new version of Android full of their crapware, run it through their QA, fix the bugs that are not considered features etc - and that takes time so a manufacturers own Android version lags at least a few months beyond Google's Android.

    It is stupid and should be fixed, but that's how it is and how it basically always was.

    • It used to hurt sales for flagship phones not to come with the most recently announced version of Android. Now it seems like people don't care if they have Nougat from 2016 or Oreo from 2017. Or at least manufacturers are hoping that people don't care and will still pay a premium for the latest phone without the latest software.

  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday November 17, 2017 @05:59PM (#55573311) Homepage Journal

    It won't surprise me if OEMs are a little slower to roll out Oreo than they have previous dessert releases, because Project Treble is an enormous change for them. With Treble, Google is drawing a hard line between the Android system and the underlying hardware. Because OEMs have in the past been accustomed to being able to change things at all levels of the stack -- as long as the compatibility test suite passes and associated non-functional requirements are met -- this change is requiring them to restructure their customizations.

    Further, since the hardware API is now well-defined, Google is testing it. That couldn't be done before. It's a good thing for the ecosystem and for future compatibility, but it requires work. For example, I wrote a suite for the hardware API that I own and found that the Google Pixel couldn't pass it, because the implementation (from Qualcomm) on the Pixel didn't actually meet the specification in many small ways. Not ways that actually produced observably-incorrect functionality at the higher layers, but it was wrong. It took Qualcomm a couple of months to fix the problems and deliver a version that could pass the new test suite.

    So, Oreo has created a lot of new work for component vendors and OEMs, and it's going to take them time to work through it.

    In the long run, of course, this should be great for the ecosystem. It should actually allow a vanilla AOSP build to be be flashed onto any device (assuming locked bootloaders and verified boot don't stop you). And once everyone is accustomed to the new structure, it should actually make it much easier for OEMs to get new versions out faster, not only for updates, but on new devices as well.

    In the short term, I'm not surprised to see OEMs choosing to launch with Nougat, where they don't have to meet Oreo's requirements. This isn't because they don't want to, but because they have product launch deadlines to hit. By next year's launches they'll have had time to get squared away and I expect things to start moving faster than in the past.

    • So, Oreo has created a lot of new work for component vendors and OEMs, and it's going to take them time to work through it.

      This is sad. I'm a very reluctant smartphone user who was on an Android 4.4 once-flagship until its cracked screen died 6 weeks ago. I blocked version 5 offer to update even knowing that 6 would never be offered for it despite the original $550 price tag.

      Still, I spent those couple years noticing that the hands of friends acquiring budget and not-so-budget phones still hungered for anything beyond versions 4 and 5 and just assumed 6 and 7 were for techies with lots of cash.

      This summer I realized with some j

      • your comment make me realize that versions 6 and 7 may become the new Android-4-like plague

        That's not what I said, and I don't think that will happen. It's certainly not what the people behind Project Treble intend. OEMs aren't refusing to move to Oreo, its just going to take some effort. And once the transition is made, the updates and upgrades will flow much more smoothly. It'll be easier for even budget phone makers to launch the latest OS, and to upgrade it.

        That's the idea, anyway. It'll take three or four years to see if it really pans out.

  • There's nothing new here. This has always been the case. Probably more-so for tablets than phones.

    Nobody wants to update the crap-ware they package with the device.

    If you are lucky, you get the current version with the device. If you are luckier still, you will get ONE major update.

  • If you mean "different OSes" then say so. I use Android devices with Nougat, Marshmallow and Kitkat all the time and I don't have to change the way I use them. They're all the same. There are minor changes to appearance and the newer ones have some stuff I never use (multiple windows..on a 5 inch screen? great. Power saving - I charge them when I need to, in the evening, so it just means plugging something in every 2 days instead of every day). Which apps can I not use on Kitkat? They all seem to work f

  • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Friday November 17, 2017 @07:15PM (#55573709) Homepage
    Newsflash... This is how Open Source works. Debian, Fedora, thousands of other Linux distributions, and The various hardware from routers to phones use different versions. That's how it works. That's how it is supposed to work. Heterogeneity is a plus, not a weakness.
  • I bought a Moto G4 Last year. I received an OS update last week. I can still use my Firefox browser app, Google Maps app, other apps, etc.

    The battery life seems good still. Why should I care about having the latest and greatest, when what I have seems to do the job?

  • They are different companies, that's the basic problem. Google over here with the OS, phone maker over there with the device.

    Release cadences and roadmaps are subject to all kinds of practical constraints and pressures, from labor and labor turnover to revenue/financials to other partnerships to strategic mission and vision.

    Even when the two organizations know something of each others timelines, that doesn't mean it's practical to synchronize them without significant work and significant negatives. I don't

  • I've read that the newest iPhones ship with iOS 11 and have some major problems requiring a continuing stream of updates or promised updates Perhaps Apple should have shipped their newest phones with the latest version of iOS 10 with most of the bugs work out since its release. Then again, maybe some of the problems with iOS 11 have to do with hardware problems and the phones would have the same or worse problems if using iOS 10.
  • It seems like the author or The Verge are desperate for per-holidays ad-clicks. When they say "no longer guaranteed", we are led to think that there used to be a time when buying a new Android phone guaranteed having the latest Android release. However, as recently as last year, I believe Honor 6X was released in the late fall with Marshmallow, even though Nougat was released, when in August-September? At about the same time Lenovo and Huawei started shipping new tablets with Marshmallow.

    So anyways, this is

  • Other than any serious security patches, older versions of the Android OS work just as well as new ones. Not only that, most apps run perfectly fine on anything from Jelly Bean 4.3 onward. If you think you have to have the absolute latest OS, get a Google phone, or Apple phone. Heck, I bet most people have no idea what version of OS is on their android phones, or care, as long as their phone works as intended.
  • I'm not sure how typical this is, but I use mine until it breaks. Then I run to the phone store (Verizon in my case) with no clue what I want and end up buying whatever they're pushing.

    It's a bad strategy I know, but I don't spend a lot of time keeping up with the latest phones. I have my own prejudices too. I don't want an iPhone and I don't want Samsung so that makes my choices narrower. I ended up with an LG V20 this time. It's a nice phone. It has a removable battery and one of those old fashio

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