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Samsung users, for example, could be waiting a while for the latest Android update to arrive, but the manufacturers only play a small role in this process.
Samsung users, for example, could be waiting a while for the latest Android update to arrive, but the manufacturers only play a small role in this process.
Image: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Why do Android updates take so long to be released?

Short answer: It’s a long and complicated process.
Nov 30th 2014, 11:00 AM 13,478 22

LAST WEEK SAW the release of one of the biggest updates to Android as Lollipop got an OTA (Over the Air) release.

Well, it got a release on Google devices first. Meanwhile, devices from other manufacturers will have to wait varying amounts of time before they see the latest version make an appearance.

The reason for it is down to a number of factors, making it anything but a straightforward process.

So what’s the process?

When an update is created, there are three main groups it needs to go through:
- The chipset makers.
- The manufacturers.
- The carriers.

While Android is a stock OS, it sends out a Software Development Kit (SDK) to all manufacturers each time a new update is released.

The SDK is also sent out to chip makers so they can determine which chips can support the update. Each chip takes a different amount of time to develop since they need to add new code that allows it to communicate with the chip.

If they can support it, the chipset makers tell the manufacturers which phones are able to run it. The chips that don’t support it can no longer upgrade and are stuck with the older version.

Once that’s figured out, the manufacturers can incorporate the new version of Android into their devices.

Each manufacturer has their own design team, programmers, hardware and software as they develop the software in their own style. This can incorporate a number of features such as HTC’s Blinkfeed, and Samsung’s split screen mode to name just a few.

This is complicated by the fact that most manufacturers have numerous phones with different hardware, sometimes varying only slighly. Even when you eliminate the non-compatible devices, it still takes a significant amount of time to modify the update so it runs on all devices.

HTC Double Exposure event in New York HTC is normally one of the first manufacturers to update, usually completing it within 90 days. Source: Martyn Landi/PA Wire

The real delay in rolling out changes comes from the carriers, which has to go through numerous trials and tests before it can give device updates the green light. The carriers’ job is to sell as many phones as possible and part of that is ensuring that each device works.

They have to do this for every device that comes in and the tests in question include hardware, software, networks and capacity. This also includes the manufacturers who work with the carriers and make whatever modifications are required.

It’s no surprise that carriers focus on the most popular (i.e. newest) phones first as they’re the ones most likely to sell.

Once that’s done, then it can be pushed out to regular users for downloading.

What about iOS and Windows Phone?

Most people would say the reason behind this is because Apple is the only one who builds hardware and software for iOS. While this makes the process faster, it still has to jump through the same hoops as Android and that includes carriers.

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The main reason why it’s faster is simply because it gets the devices with iOS 8 out to carriers faster, usually before it announces its launch. 

The problem for Google is it has to bring the update to numerous manufacturers which slows the process down. That’s why its Nexus range is one of the first to get it since Google works so closely with it.

The same problem applies to Windows Phone as well. Windows Phone 8.1 still hasn’t arrived for certain devices, although in the case of Lumia, that process may speed up since Microsoft is handling both manufacturing and development.

Technology stock Source: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

So will this change?

Unlikely in the short-term but it really depends on a number of factors. What would help is if manufacturers to scale back on the number of devices they release.

This is already happening with Samsung and Sony – mainly for reasons pertaining to cost – and while it won’t result in a major change, it will make the process a little bit faster.

Read: Here are the new Android Lollipop features you should know about >

Read: This Irish mum set up a Minecraft convention. The response has been absolutely crazy >

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Quinton O'Reilly

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