Google may make public rankings of which Android device makers are quickest to update phones with the latest features, to embarrass those who are slow to move faster, Bloomberg reported.
Google needs Android users to have the latest update for when it rolls out new products, such as the Daydream virtual reality system, and also for security reasons. For instance, a fix for the Stagefright bug only reached a fraction of Android’s 1.4 billion active user base.
The search giant reportedly created the rankings earlier this year and shared it with Android partners. It may now open up the list to public scrutiny.
This is an area where it has stiff competition from Apple, which has more control because it creates both the software and the hardware.
According to the report, 84 per cent of Apple’s mobile devices run the latest iOS software, compared with only 7.5 percent of Android devices that have Marshmallow, the most recent version of the Android OS.
Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer, speaking at Google’s I/O developer conference last week, said the issue with updates “is the weakest link on security on Android”.
Whats more, the Federal Communications Commission wrote a letter to Apple, Google and operators like AT&T and Verizon earlier this month, expressing concern about “significant delays in delivering patches to actual devices – and that older devices may never be patched”.
This is not a new problem. Google created the short-lived Android Update Alliance back in 2011 but it fizzled out.
Perhaps operators are Google’s biggest challenge because they need to test updates thoroughly to ensure they do not cause network disruption, which means the process can move slower. Verizon can take “months” to test and approve updates, a source told Bloomberg, but has reduced this by a few weeks, as has Sprint.
Google is trying to convince them to exclude its security patches from rigorous testing, which can cost several hundred thousand dollars per model.
Meanwhile, Google is trying to work around the problem. Some of its products come as standalone apps, instead of being part of a new version of the Android OS, so more users can access it and Google can update them without being subject to testing.
It’s also making some features compatible with older versions of the OS, such as Instant Apps, and released a preview of Android N earlier than usual to give manufacturers more time to adapt to it.
The report said the struggle may continue as Android phone makers are more focused on selling new devices and quoted Mike Chan, co-founder of phonemaker Nextbit, as saying that “the best way to solve this problem is a massive re-architecture of the operating system,” or training manufacturers and carriers “to be good Android citizens.”
Google’s efforts come as the European Commission last month found it guilty of abusing the power accrued via Android over handset makers and operators, accusing the company of breaking EU antitrust rules.