If you want the freshest version of Android as soon as possible, the Google Pixel range is clearly your best bet. Historically, other Android manufacturers have been much less reliable. Although some have been faster and more consistent with security and version updates than others. It remains a little befuddled by consumers when they buy devices that will see long-term support.
With Project Treble now supported by key Android flagships, in theory, updates need to roll out to us faster than ever before. It has now been five months since Android Pie launched – does data confirm Google's optimization of faster updates?
Let's look at the data
The data in the graph below shows the time span between an Android version release date and the first confirmed report from an OEM that propagates the update to unlocked phones worldwide. I looked at key devices that were announced well ahead of a new Android OS message so we can fully evaluate the upgrade times. This list includes the Samsung Galaxy S series, the Huawei P series, and LG's G models.
On average, Nougat updates took about 192 days to reach important devices, while Oreo was slightly faster on 170. Android Pie updates hit devices much faster, averaging only 118 days from Google launch for significant OEM rollout. This is a significant improvement, though we are still waiting for updates from LG and HTC to pull this average backup.
Most manufacturers are quicker to deliver updates now, but some are slower. Huawei, Samsung and Xiaomi were noticeably faster this time, bringing updates to key devices by the end of 2018. OnePlus and Sony were particularly fast, but they have always been faster than most. On the other hand, Motorola has rolled out updates for its flagship Z series slower over the last few years.
Small OEMs update their phones faster, but big brands close the gap
One last point. These data do not include older device update times or how manufacturers process mid-smart phones. Both of these categories still receive updates, especially slower than large flagship launches. But the situation seems to improve with some OEMs with widespread Android pie.
Treble and One have helped
Targeting through a large selection of smartphone update articles, there are two key trends that I have identified. First, Project Treble has helped big manufacturers update Oreo-based phones much faster than before. Second, Android One makes much faster updates for a wider range of consumers.
Looking back at the data, you notice that Samsung, Huawei and Xiaomi cut their update times by almost half between Nougat and the biggest jump Pie coming in the last update. All three manufacturers shot flagship phone updates just before 2019. The previous years delayed the updates to the end of 1. or Q2 the following year.
This is important because these phones are some of the biggest sellers. Samsung Galaxy S9, Huawei P20 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 8 are in many consumer hands and most will now use Pie. Unfortunately, Google's distribution numbers do not include Android 9.0, but we could expect much faster adoption of the latest operating system because of this.
Project Treble has cut months of waiting times for big flagship phones
Outside of large-budget flagships, many lower-cost phones are already running Android Pie as well. These phones are predominantly Android One models, including those from Nokia and Xiaomi. Interestingly, LG already has a 9.0 Pie update for the LG G7 One, while the regular LG G7 ThinQ model is still waiting for its global rollout. In the same way, the HTC U11 Life Pie is in front of the flagship HTC U12 Plus.
The reason why this initiative provides updates so quickly is Android One devices that run a stock OS. There are no custom skin, software or apps to update and test for compatibility, unlike handsets with more complex features from Samsung and others. Combined with Treble, which simplifies the driver layer, it is quick for manufacturers to get Google's update and blink it to their devices.
More and more is being done
The number of Key Pie updates already prepared paints a good image for Google's latest OS version. However, there are still large differences between the fastest and slowest producers – a hole that we would of course like to see closer to. Not to mention that medium and older units are still often quickly forgotten. In an ideal world we would like to see all smartphones receive updates for more than two years.
The right test for Android comes with the next big OS update. Can manufacturers provide consistent security updates, as well as upgrades to core OS? Will last year's equipment continue to see support at this pace? Will Treble finally help end Android's long-standing fragmentation problem?