Google Android updates are tricky

Google’s update process for Android is trash and it can’t do anything about it.

According to ZDNet, the reason why Android phone and tablet owners never know if or when their device will get the shiny new version of Android from Google is because the whole process is controlled by the carriers and the OEMs.

For a while now, Google has explained that this is why the system is breaking, but it has not offered any answers to the problem.

Google’s Sundar Pichai recently made a statement that the company is still trying to figure out how to make it better. He has taken the poisoned chalice of trying to fix the problem in both Chrome and Android.

We have heard statements like this from Google before, and this one is just as vague. So far, Pichai does not seem to have a cunning plan, although he does have an idea. ZDNet reports that he thinks there are ways Google can accomplish this, but it is early days.

At the moment Google is “talking with our partners and working our way through it”. He said that Google needed time to figure out the mechanics, but it’s definitely an area of focus for him and for the team.

Android users might think that sort of statement is not good enough, given the mess that the system is collapsing into. Android has been out for ages and there is a huge global market. But the whole lot could collapse if users collectively decide they are hacked off about the lack of upgrades on their model.

It could also go pear-shaped if, for example, the EU decides that buyers of Android phones and tablets have the right to expect regular updates for the reasonable life of those products.

Where consumer watchdogs could give Google a good kicking is that updates are not just about new features, but more importantly, security updates and bug fixes. But Google’s problem is that the carriers and OEMs do not really want to update phones. The sale has been made, the contract has been signed, why they should give a monkey’s?

This is the reason that in 2011 Google formed its Update Alliance which was supposed to get carriers and OEMs in line to give proper updates to their customers. Needless to say it didn’t.

Pichai saying that it is “talking with our partners and working our way through it” clearly is not going to happen. If it had, then the alliance would have worked.

One idea is for Google to adopt some form of subscription service at the hardware level which phones home to the company to pick up regular updates. Apparently the phone companies and OEMs do not want this because it would have to include all the driver updates for each product. Since this would mean them having to supply drivers to Google, they are not that keen. That would be helpful and efficient and they are neither.

If Google had the will it could easily push the OEMs and phone companies into line, a straight contract pledging to update every phone within hours of an upgrade could do it. But for some reason Google does not have the will to take on the phone companies. That could change as Android becomes more ubiquitous. In the days where Apple ruled the roost, the phone companies could say “we will just work with Apple” – but either way Google will have to do something fast, or lose ground unnecessarily.