Importance of software updates on smartphones

I’ve talked about long term software support on smartphones before, but I want to further expand on that because seeing what kind of absolutely dumb shit people say on GSMArena about quality software support on smartphones makes me believe they have absolutely no clue what it even means to the whole experience.

Comment section there is an absolute dumpsterfire on steroids where only thing they understand are hardware specs (which work solely through bigger numbers are better) and bragging what Android OS has more than iOS (bigger numbers are better again) and it makes me wonder if people are really that clueless, dumb and straight up willfully ignorant that they actively don’t want vendors to offer them better support. Every time I bring up importance of updates because they generally suck with all vendors, people bring up “muh Android has all the features 10 years ago that iPhones won’t get for 20 more years”. You dumb idiots, updates are more than just features!

There are 3 factors that define good software support and it’s not just number of features phone supports out of the box and how many it gets later via updates.

Longevity of support

Longevity essentially defines how long device receives any kind of updates as whole. From day you buy it to day it gets very last update, major or security update. And here I’m talking actual OS updates, not stuff downloaded from GooglePlay as few components that have such updating (like Android System WebView).

Updates responsiveness

While several vendors these days claim 4 years of total support, the rate at which you get updates is often still really sad. Seeing how many phone vendors are just now updating their phones to Android 11 (which was released back on 8th September 2020!), I don’t really have much faith in any of it. Getting new OS version pretty much 1 year after it was released by Google is just pathetic. 6 months should be an absolute maximum regardless of device cost. Because they tend to do even worse on cheaper devices… And we’re not talking major OS updates only. So many companies are ridiculously late with security updates too. Google releases monthly security updates and most vendors are so late they are releasing them whole month later, sometimes even longer. So you’re getting July 2021 update at the end of that month or even in August. Another issue I have with Android phones in general that falls under this category is how they always seed updates. On iPhone, when any update is out, everyone gets it this moment. If not automatically, you can manually check and update will be there, no exceptions or regional restrictions. Good luck with that on Android phones, just in general from my experience. And that’s why you always have comment sections filled with people asking and wondering why others got the update already and they still haven’t got one after many days and even weeks and they keep on manually checking for it. One of biggest annoyances with literally every single Android phone I owned which doesn’t exist on iPhones at all.

Security updates

Most people seem to think software updates are only feature updates and fixes for said features. You know, getting new functions and settings and fixes when they are broken. The thing is, we have our entire lives on our phones these days, private photos and videos, banking and finances, logins to webpages, all our bookmarks etc, surely you don’t want that ever compromised, right? It’s why I put a lot of emphasis on long term support and praise Apple for how long they actually actively support and update their devices with security updates when feature/major OS updates already stop and why I’m not a big fan of Android’s approach of letting you run really ancient OS versions that haven’t received any updates for years and everyone just run with it like it’s a great thing.

Now, granted, apps do get updates and some key system components like WebView do get updates past software support of the actual phone vendor, but those can only go so far as they can’t patch security issues in WiFi or BT modules or core OS components that are only updatable via dedicated security updates. I’m absolutely not fond of the idea relying on these “app updates” to keep me secure and hoping they in fact cover the vulnerabilities. If they were, there would be no need for monthly security updates that have to be issues by phone maker and can’t be delivered by Google itself through GooglePlay.

There is also this general misconception that “monthly security updates” on Android phones are somehow magically delivered to ALL phones by Google itself. Which is not only incorrect, it’s straight up lie. Google releases monthly security updates to vendors and then it’s up to them to actually deliver them to specific phone models used by users. If they don’t deliver security updates to actual devices, Google can release 100 security updates and users won’t get any.

Secrecy and how vendors specify support for phones

A very big annoyance is how vendors always hide software support policies into some obscure pages and documentations so 3/4 of people have no idea how long phones actually get software updates. Why is it so damn hard to openly state this next to all the rest of phone specs like display resolution, chipset type and battery size? Why not mention it right there? You really have to be super involved into mobile devices to be on top of things and know for example Samsung offers OS updates for 3 years and 1 extra year of only security updates. Which brings me to another super annoying thing, which is how vendors specify software support…

Basically all of them market it as “3 years of OS updates and 4 years of security updates”. Now, what does that tell you? To me, this sounds like you’re getting 7 years of total software support. 3 years of major OS updates and then 4 additional years of security updates after that. However, the wording actually means 4 years in total. It’s 3 years of major OS updates and of those 3 years, security updates already run in parallel, you only get extra 1 year. One may say, but that makes perfect sense? Does it? One would expect security updates to be a normal part of OS updates because getting major OS versions means that’s period of fully active software support, security updates are when you’re in grace period of support before total discontinuation of software support. If you’re releasing those, surely you’ll be also releasing security updates through that period, right? It’s how long after major OS updates you still offer security updates that’s important to me. Why not call it 3+1 ? Or 3+2? Or just 5 years of support and you know you’ll have 5 years of both for, well, 5 years and then that’s that and you’re off relying on app updates only.

Resources to see how long Android phones are actually supported

Visit page www.androidupdatetracker.com and search for brand you’re interested in. It’ll open a list of phone models from that brand. Open any of the listed models and on that page, down below you can find “X Android Update Policy” where X is brand name. Here you can see for every brand how it treats its phones as far as software support goes.

Page maintainers seem to keep good track of it, but some vendors don’t have any policy listed. so those are the unknown.

Conclusion

This post turned into a really long one yet again, but I think it’s important for people to realize software support on smartphones is also very important and we should all demand phone vendors/makers to do better and not coddle them with stupid excuses and defend their slow and lazy software support. This is not competition whether iOS is better than Android or vice versa. It’s about having great experience from software and hardware perspective and not only focus on hardware specs non stop and ignore or dismiss software side. I always mention Apple because it has exemplary support. They support phones for incredibly long time, they release updates to all users at the same time and offer security updates for very long time even after major OS updates have stopped. I want that from Android phone makers, because despite people constantly calling me all sorts of dumb names for it, I’m really not a fan of Apple as brand outside of things they do well and that I like or are important to me. And if I’ll ever want to return to Android they need to do better with software updates than pathetic support they offer currently. And that goes to nearly all phone makers in existence! You all suck at software support compared to Apple, even if Apple is sometimes late on certain specific features/functions.

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