Search giant Google is creating a list that ranks Android partners based on how up-to-date their handsets are, according to a report from Bloomberg. The company has apparently shared the list with relevant parties and considering making it public – essentially shaming OEMs who did not make it to the list into doing more to support their devices.
Since its inception in 2008, Android smartphones have always been plagued by fragmentation issues. Google’s home brand – Nexus – naturally receives new versions of Android right away, but the other handsets are left at the mercy of their makers; and most of the time they are slow in pushing out software updates. To put things into perspective, 84% of iOS devices run the latest software while only 7.5% of Android devices run Marshmallow, the latest Android OS.
This means that a lot of devices not only lack the latest Google’s offering, but more importantly they are also missing out on security updates. “It’s not an ideal situation,” said Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer at Google’s I/O developer conference last week, while describing the lack of updates as “the weakest link on security on Android.”
To work around the platform’s weakness, Google has started to reduce reliance on the update process. Core Android elements, like the new Allo messaging service, now often come out as a standalone app. This allows updates to be pushed via the Play Store, bypassing the tedious carrier test entirely.
The company has also re-architected Android to close the gap between underlying OS versions. Android Instant Apps which was introduced in I/O 2016 for example, is not only compatible with Marshmallow but goes all the way back to Jellybean.
Google also believes Android N will help to ease the fragmentation issue. According to the company, the next iteration of Android will be more modular, allowing smaller updates to be pushed to a wider variety of devices. Of course, this does not help other phones running older builds of Android, but we are hopeful.