Are Android upgrades actually improving? It’s complicated

There’s a popular narrative in tech media right now that Android upgrades are really, truly getting better — that for all the time device-makers take to send out updated software, they’re nevertheless improving and making strides toward a more reasonable standard.

I’ve been tracking Android upgrade performance closely for years now, and I’m hesitant to buy into such a narrative — especially when it seems to be based mostly on limited-scope, anecdotal perception and maybe the occasional marketing department nudge. So now that my Android 10 Upgrade Report Card is complete, I thought it’d be interesting to take a careful look at the actual data surrounding Android upgrades to see what the cold, hard numbers reveal.

The answer, in short: It’s complicated. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Android upgrades: All flagships are not equal

One thing folks frequently forget when talking about the state of Android upgrades is that there are two separate fronts we have to consider — the current-generation flagship phones, at the time of an upgrade’s arrival, and then the previous-gen flagship phones alongside ’em. As a general rule, Android device-makers commit to providing updates for two years to top-tier devices, which means those year-old phones are every bit as important as their more recent siblings. But since they tend to be less top of mind in terms of mainstream media attention, they also tend to be where companies cut some disconcerting corners.

We’ll start with the relatively positive news, though, specific to those current-gen flagships: On that front, with Android 10, we saw some genuine, heartening improvements from a few different sources.

Take a look for yourself. This first chart shows the total number of days from the time of an Android OS update’s release to its first appearance on a company’s current-gen flagship — from this current cycle all the way back to the Android Lollipop launch in 2014. (As a reminder, my data focuses specifically on U.S.-based versions of devices. That gives us a consistent metric for comparison and allows us to assess how quickly a typical U.S. device-owner could get the software in a typical situation. You can read more about my methodology here.)

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.


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