Android One smartphone

In what may come as shock to Android enthusiasts, Google has seemingly, and quietly, deleted a statement regarding the guaranteed two years of OS upgrade for all Android One devices.

Update: Google denies any changes in update promise for Android phones.

“We confirm that our promise to provide 2 years of updates on Android One devices still stands and our website design does not impact the promise of this program,” a Google spokesperson told the India Today Tech.

Old story continues…

The Android One webpage now mentions that all Android One devices are guaranteed with monthly security updates from the manufacturers. However, there’s no mention of the OS upgrade anywhere.

If we have to name one thing that drastically affected the dynamics of the smartphone market in 2018, it has to be Google’s Android One programme. Many manufacturers from the Android universe understood that there was a section of the market hungry for smartphones that offered a clean bloat-free Android experience with guaranteed and timely software updates. Nokia cashed-in highly on the opportunity by launching all of their smartphones with the Android One ROMs. Motorola, Xiaomi and Infinix also jumped in on the bandwagon for keeping the cash registers running.

What actually kept the cash registers running for these companies was the promise of guaranteed Android updates. In the affordable segments (under Rs 25,000), consumers are exposed to a lot of options with varying degrees of options. Some focus on good cameras while others focus on raw performance. In case of the latter, manufacturers often tend to fall behind when it comes to releasing the latest updates that Google releases for Android. Most of the phones are released with customised interfaces and companies don’t like to mess with the stable software builds by infusing Google’s additions underneath. Hence, you will find phones in this price bracket that are devoid of major Android updates.

The original page from the Android One website that documented Google’s promise of 2 years of Android update. This has been removed now.

With Android One, manufacturers found it easy for Google to deal with the software development while they could focus more on developing the hardware, i.e. offer better cameras and long-lasting batteries. Xiaomi introduced the trend last year with Mi A1 and other followed suit Nokia even went on to convert their entire 2018 lineup of smartphones to Android One compliant devices. Consumers suddenly had a lot of options to choose from while sticking to Google’s version of stock Android. A stock Android interface promised negligible bloatware, a clean and well laid out interface, fluid user experience and most importantly, a timely rollout of updates.

While sticking to a clean and bloat-free interface is easy for all manufacturers, rolling out timely updates to devices is where every company is struggling massively. For example, Xiaomi’s popular Mi A1 was released with Android Nougat and got the Oreo update by the end of 2017. However, the second update to Android 9 Pie has only started to happen by the end of 2018. This isn’t on par with Google’s promise of timely software updates for at least two years. Several Mi A1 users also complained of delayed monthly security updates. It’s not only Xiaomi, but most Android One devices from other manufacturers are also unable to deliver timely security updates.

So why is Google backing off?

Google hasn’t mentioned an official reason for this decision. But, the reasons are plainly visible after one looks at the history of the Android One programme in the last year.

Since Google made the promise of timely software upgrades, it has pushed its partner manufacturers to abide by the Android One laws. However, despite making Android more malleable for companies to adapt for their individual smartphone models over the years, manufacturers still struggle to adapt the latest build of Android for their Android One devices. Every single Android One phone is vastly different in comparison to the others. Manufacturers need to adopt the latest version of the Android One ROM for their devices and make sure they run bug-free. They have to spend considerable time to test it in beta before making the update public. The whole process requires a lot of effort and resources and therefore delays the rollout of the latest updates. For Google, they get a lot of time to test the software for their Pixel devices, which are a few in number and make it public just around the time when the new update is ready for their devices.

While sticking to a clean and bloat-free interface is easy for all manufacturers, rolling out timely updates to devices is where every company is struggling massively.

With the market dynamics evolving rapidly, manufacturers see more sense in rolling out an upgraded device than just updating the software for long on their older devices. This marketing strategy speaks against Google’s promise of timely OS upgrades. Therefore, it makes sense for Google to withdraw the claim, completely safeguarding itself against accusations.

Is this fair for consumers?

Certainly not. Android One’s appeal exists primarily because of its timely update policy and with that gone, it brings down the appeal of Android One devices to consumers. Surely, an Android One device brings a bloat-free and fluid user experience, but it also makes it annoying if the device is stuck on an older version of Android. With Google taking back its claim, manufacturers will be free to decide whether a software upgrade is necessary for a particular product and in most case, leave out the older devices.

However, Google should mandate quicker rollout of security patches to these devices and ensure consumers in the budget segment get to enjoy Android in a way it was meant to be.