Google May Shame Partners Into Ending Android Fragmentation - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Mobile
Commentary
5/26/2016
12:05 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
50%
50%

Google May Shame Partners Into Ending Android Fragmentation

Google might resort to naming and shaming smartphone makers and carriers who are behind in updating Android devices.

Google I/O 2016: AI, VR Get Day In The Sun
Google I/O 2016: AI, VR Get Day In The Sun
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Android smartphones have faced an issue called fragmentation almost as long as the platform has been around. Nexus-branded phones receive new versions of Android right away, but all other handsets are at the mercy of their makers, and the makers' carrier partners. Some companies are better than other at pushing updates, but that's no consolation for the hundreds of millions of devices left running old builds of Android.

Google is sick of the sluggishness, and it's hatched a plan that might speed things up.

Security, more than user-facing features, is the heart of the matter. After the Stagefright scare in 2015, Google immediately stepped up efforts to improve the security of Android devices. It now issues security patches on a monthly basis. The problem? Besides Nexus phones, few models ever receive these security updates.

In order to scare some sense into its handset partners, Google has compiled a list ranking just how good each smartphone maker is at providing timely updates. The idea, reports Bloomberg, is to shame the makers into pushing updates out at a faster rate.

(Image: JasminSeidel/iStockphoto)

(Image: JasminSeidel/iStockphoto)

In fact, the company has already shared the list with its manufacturer partners and is weighing whether or not to disclose the list to the public. Those that are slow to deliver updates rank poorly on the list, perhaps giving consumers an incentive to pick phones from companies more apt to provide updates.

Will the strategy work? Who knows?

Google is partly to blame for the problem. They way Android was designed often requires brand new builds of the platform to add new features and security tweaks. Each phone requires its own system image, which must be put together by the manufacturer. Once the OEM finalizes the build, it goes to the carrier partner for testing. The process is known to take months.

Verizon Wireless once told me that preparing system updates for existing smartphones is nearly as much work as launching the phone in the first place. Sprint told Bloomberg that its approval process used to take 12 weeks, but it has been shortened to "a few weeks." It's no wonder phone makers and carriers are loath to spend the time and resources updating products that have already shipped.

In a post-Snowden world, consumers are beginning to take the security of their personal information more seriously. More people have consented to locking their phones, for example. Locked phones aren't protected from the large number of bugs that are out there, and the vast majority of Android devices have not been patched.

[Room for debate: Is Android fragmentation a good thing?]

The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are concerned as well, and have asked mobile carriers to provide details on their processes.

Apple's model, as we all know, is dramatically different. Apple retains full control over iOS. The company distributes major and minor updates without carrier approval. The result? More than 80% of iOS devices are using iOS 9.x, the most recent build of Apple's mobile platform. In comparison, only 7.5% of Android devices are running the newest build.

Google believes Android N will also help. The company says the next version of Android will be more modular, allowing it to push smaller updates to more devices. Again, this doesn't help all the phones running older builds of Android, which at the moment total almost 1.4 billion.

Google did not comment on Bloomberg's report.

Help Wanted. InformationWeek's hosted, searchable job board can help you find your next gig. Start your search today.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
DDURBIN1
50%
50%
DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/27/2016 | 11:55:51 AM
Unrealistic Expectation
There is a very good reason Android OS is fragmented, hardware.  Unlike Apple, the hardware chosen by manufacutures most often is not capable of Andorid upgrades particularly in non-smartphone devices.  Many of the devices out there running Android 4.1 or lower aren't capable of running 4.4 let alone 5.0.  If Google is going to "shame" manufacutures they should start with themselves.  I've got a Nexus 10 that will never see marshmellow and a first gen Nexus 7 that won't run 5.1.  They're both paper weights.
Slideshows
Top-Paying U.S. Cities for Data Scientists and Data Analysts
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  11/5/2019
Slideshows
10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  11/1/2019
Commentary
Study Proposes 5 Primary Traits of Innovation Leaders
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  11/8/2019
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
State of the Cloud
State of the Cloud
Cloud has drastically changed how IT organizations consume and deploy services in the digital age. This research report will delve into public, private and hybrid cloud adoption trends, with a special focus on infrastructure as a service and its role in the enterprise. Find out the challenges organizations are experiencing, and the technologies and strategies they are using to manage and mitigate those challenges today.
Video
Current Issue
Getting Started With Emerging Technologies
Looking to help your enterprise IT team ease the stress of putting new/emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and IoT to work for their organizations? There are a few ways to get off on the right foot. In this report we share some expert advice on how to approach some of these seemingly daunting tech challenges.
Slideshows
Flash Poll