There's no longer an excuse for late Android updates: If this tiny smartphone company can support Android P on the same day as Google, so can everyone else

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

  • The Essential Phone is the only Android phone in recent memory that has received Google’s latest version of Android at the same time as Google’s own Pixel devices.
  • It shows that there’s no longer any excuse for Android phones getting Android updates several months after they’re released.

Usually, third-party phones that aren’t made by Google don’t get Android updates for months after they’re released.

Sometimes it’s years, if they ever get the update at all.

But Essential, the company behind the gorgeous $US400 Essential Phone with high-end specs and design, was able to deliver the latest version of Android at exactly the same time as Google did for its Pixel phones. No other Android phone that hasn’t been made by Google can boast the same thing, if my memory serves me correctly.

How? “Once Google handed off their latest P beta release to us, we sprinted to merge this code into ours and handed it off to QA/Beta testers to ensure the build is consumer-ready,” Essential program manager Ron Cheung said in a blog post.

Essential phone angle2Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

“A lot of work ahead of time!” Essential software lead Jean-Baptiste Théou said. “A lot of planning and dedication to make it happen.”

Essential quality assurance manager Elyse Kirker said “There isn’t a lot of back and forth between multiple teams to bring this all together… and we have incredibly quick turnaround with building and testing our patches as a result – no red tape to worry about here.”

According to Théou, Google’s “Treble” feature that Google said would make it easier for phone makers to push Android updates more quickly is actually working. “Google made a significant effort in Oreo, and finished it in P, to separate Google code from Vendor code (Treble). This is an amazing change for OEM’s, because it offered us more flexibility, and allowed us to release updates to our users much more quickly,” Jean-Baptiste said.

Essential PhoneHollis Johnson/Business Insider

To be fair, Android updates can take a little longer for other Android phone makers, especially when they include extra layers of features and interface design – often called “skins” – on their phones. Indeed, phone makers have to integrate the latest version of Android with their own “skins,” which takes time and resources. And some of these extra features from phone-maker skins can actually be pretty great. As for the Essential Phone, it doesn’t run an extra skin. Or if it does, it’s extremely light and hardly noticeable. That way, it’s easier and faster for Essential to integrate the latest version of Android to its phone.

For phones that are sold through carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, where most Americans buy their smartphones, Android updates are even more delayed due to extra vetting processes by the carriers.

But I’m relunctant to make too many excuses for those Android phone makers that use skins or those that are sold through carriers. At the end of the day, late updates are a contributing factor to one of Android’s biggest issues: a fragmented ecosystem, where millions of Android phones are running on several different versions of Android, causing security issues, headaches for app developers. More importantly, users miss out on the latest software developed by Google – only the most prolific software company in the world.

Galaxy s9Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Let’s take Samsung’s latest Galaxy S9 smartphone from February 2018, for example. It’s still running on Android 8.0 “Oreo,” which originally rolled out in August 2017. Now that Android 9 “Pie” is out, it means the Galaxy S9 is two updates behind Google’s Pixel and the Essential phone as of August 2018.

The Galaxy S9 hasn’t yet receive the Android 8.1 update that originally rolled out in December 2017. Samsung had months before the Galaxy S9 was even released to give it Android 8.1. But it’s now seven months later, and Android 8.1 still isn’t on the Galaxy S9. I’d be pretty surprised if Samsung’s smartphone budget is smaller than Essential’s.

Other third-party Android phone makers aren’t especially better about rolling out Android updates, either.

If Essential, a small smartphone company that’s only released a single phone to date, can get Android updates on day one, so can the big guys like Samsung, LG, and pretty much any other non-Google Android phone maker out there – at least for those companies’ flagship devices. There’s no longer any excuse for late Android updates for premium phones.

Google also actively announced which phone companies are rolling out the Android P update in the fall. The list includes “Sony Mobile, Xiaomi, HMD Global, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Essential, as well as all qualifying Android One devices, will receive this update by the end of this fall.”

While it may seem like “this fall” is late for receiving Android P, it’s actually not so bad. As it stands now, Android P only contains some of the new features that Google announced during its Google I/O event earlier this year. The rest of the features will be rolled out in the fall.

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