Google needs to raise the bar for Android updates in 2023

Google has long fought for its reputation as a clean and green company that pays close attention to sustainability. Whether it’s the company’s claim to use primarily recycled aluminum for its excellent phones or its efforts to run its data centers on clean energy, the company shows that it’s making a lot of progress. In 2021, Google finally promised to deliver five years of security patches to its Pixel phones, including the Google Pixel 7 Pro, but for some reason the company still flatly refuses to offer more than three Android updates – and that’s a problem for years.


While we’re in a better place now than we were in 2020, Google still has a lot of work to do if it wants to show its commitment to software updates and, by extension, sustainability.

Outperformed by the competition

Google has long led the pack with its three-year update promise, but the company has been outdone by the competition. With the introduction of One UI, Samsung has restructured its approach to software development in an effort to provide an easier-to-update system, as Samsung’s vice president of Android Framework R&D, Sally Jeong, told us. While the company took a long time to get to where it is today, it is now one of your best options if you value quickly and long running updates.

Samsung’s flagships routinely get security patches before Google’s devices, and while Samsung can’t beat Google with full Android system updates, it comes close. The South Korean company managed to complete the large batch of its Android 13 updates before 2022 was out, which is impressive given the number of different Android devices in the company’s portfolio – and makes Google look much worse in comparison looks, because so few phones update as it does.

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Even OnePlus, a company that has seen better days when it comes to software, has surpassed Google. The company is now promising up to four Android version updates and five years of security patches for its flagship phones. While this policy doesn’t apply to the many Nord budget phones the company now produces, it’s still a big improvement over the opaque approach OnePlus and many other manufacturers have taken in the past.

Looking across the fence, Apple is in a much better position from the start. It offers about six to eight years of software updates for all of its phones. If you’re someone who hangs on to technology until it’s no longer usable, the iPhone is probably the way to go. A brand new iPhone will get software updates for a longer period of time than the battery is likely to last.

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Apple has the great advantage of providing both the hardware and software for its products, whereas most Android manufacturers rely on off-the-shelf processors like the Qualcomm Snadragon 8 Gen 2. This isn’t a bad approach in itself, but it doing so means that most manufacturers have less control over how long they can provide updates for their devices than Apple. Qualcomm offers software patches for its processors, and once the chipmaker stops doing so, updates become a lot more difficult. It is possible to overcome this hurdle, as Fairphone proved with the Fairphone 2, but it is not an easy task.

Google is in a great position to lead the Android world

Unlike many other Android manufacturers, Google is now in a similar position to Apple. Starting with the Google Pixel 6 series, the company introduced its custom silicon solution, the Google Tensor. It has since followed up its first attempt at its own processor with the Google Tensor G2, which solved many of the problems we had with the first generation.


Now, the Google Tensor chip isn’t quite as custom as Apple’s silicon – it runs on more off-the-shelf hardware than that solution, and it includes Samsung’s infamous Exynos modem, which played a big part in why the Pixel 6 had a bad run. had connection. These and some thermal issues have been resolved with the Google Pixel 7 series, and it makes perfect sense that the first attempt at its own SoC might not have been quite right.

At this point, however, the company should be looking beyond just adding its own chip to its smartphones and upcoming tablet. It’s a great first step towards independence from outside factors that it has no control over, like Qualcomm deciding to drop support for one of its Snapdragon processors, but Google has the opportunity to benefit much more from its own hardware.

Tensor chips could allow Google to provide the Pixel phones with much longer software updates, surpassing even Samsung by its four years. Google could go straight to Apple and promise to support its Pixel phones for up to seven years. This would give other manufacturers another push to give us more software updates, and ultimately everyone would benefit from devices that last longer and are more durable.


I realize that providing software support for hardware is much more complicated than just making your own processor, and there are probably many other background dependencies that complicate long-term support.

But yes, if Fairphone, a small Dutch company with limited resources, manages to update an Android phone for seven years in a row, then a billion-dollar company can probably figure it out.

Regulators are gearing up to enforce longer support

Another reason for Google to move to a longer update cycle is regulation. Following its big USB-C mandate, forcing the USB connector on virtually all phones, including the iPhone, Europe is preparing for a 3+5 year update policy for phone manufacturers. This would mean companies giving phones three years of software updates and five years of security updates after launch, which would serve Google just fine.

However, the fact that Google fits right into this regulation also means it can’t use its software update policy to differentiate itself from other brands. Also now the main Android manufacturer, Samsung, offers a better update policy. If Google only does the bare minimum, it won’t even be able to differentiate itself from Xiaomi, Oppo, Honor, and Realme, brands that historically haven’t been great at long-term software support, despite great hardware offered by them.

If this EU regulation comes into effect, the only way Google can differentiate itself in the upgrade department is for its phones to always receive updates first. This may be enough to woo enthusiasts like you and me, but it won’t be enough to win over the masses who would rather wait a few weeks or even months anyway, just in case there are issues with new releases.

The Google Pixel 8 should have more than five years of software support

EU regulations also aim to create a more sustainable phone market, which brings us back to Google’s sustainability efforts. Again, the company is in a great position to provide more than five years of software support for its mobile products, thanks to the company finally starting to own more of the hardware. In addition, Google could show that it really takes sustainability seriously, beyond the window dressing consisting of partially recycled hardware components. With the Google Pixel 8, the company was able to prove that it is the leader of the Android world it is supposed to be.

In fact, long-term software support is just the bare minimum for a more sustainable approach to the phone market. I could talk at length about user-replaceable components, fair resource sourcing throughout the supply chain, and end-of-life recycling incentives for consumers, but that would be beyond the scope of this software-focused article.