id: 113 View:article
07 Jul 2017
13 Sep 2013
News  Platforms
Project Treble

A thorn in Android's side for years

Ask anyone familiar with Android today what the biggest problem with it is and chances are "security" and "updates" will feature prominently in the answers. It's no co-incidence either - the two are intricately related.

In the eyes of the public, Android is less secure because it doesn't get updates anything like as quickly or as comprehensively as other platforms, in particular the iPhone. Even worse, some handsets end up getting no updates at all after a shockingly short length of time from their launch. Two years from launch until sunset has even been seen, without naming names.

Vendors prefer to sell new models for obvious reasons. There's no money for them in providing eternal updates, and it costs a fortune to retro-fit them in anyway, money which they''d much sooner invest in their newer models.

Modular base

The base circuit of a smartphone is built around a "System on a Chip", shortened to SoC. This provides the actual hardware at a low level to perform everything you're familiar with on the phone, such as making calls, driving the screen, receiving GPS and so on. All of that need software writing specifically for it, called drivers, which then interface with the various services Android provides. Each new SoC has a life cycle of its own, and as we know each new version of Android does too.

When a new version of Android is released, it's a huge job to backport it to older SoC hardware because each new Android release offer newer features, and sometimes kills older ones, via the new API which comes with the release. To get it to work with older handsets, the vendor must carefully make sure all the new API's work with the existing drivers for the particular SoC they are aiming for. Often this needs the drivers for it to be updated, and remember there's a growing list of older SoC's to support, its not just the one in the phone launched last year, but the year before, and the one before that etc. It's no surprise the vendors, the public and Google itself are at loggerheads here. The smartphone market has razor thin margins as it is: vendors want to invest in future models so they can sell them, not prop up their old ones. 

Apple doesn't have this problem.