Rumor: Google may soon force OEMs to use recent versions of Android on new devices

by: Andrew GrushFebruary 10, 2014

Android 4.4 KitkAt logo wood - aa

If you were to go out and buy a new Android handset today, odds are it would at the very least come with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, especially when it comes to mid and low-end devices from major OEMs. But what about that ultra-low end handset from some lesser known brand or even a new budget device like the LG Optimus F3Q? For devices like these, you might be stuck with Android 4.1 — or worse.

According to a new report from Android Police, Google is preparing a change that could reduce the number of new handsets that ship with dramatically older versions of Android. The news comes from a leaked memo, and suggests that Google may soon force OEMs to use up-to-date Android versions on new devices if they want to qualify for Google Mobile Services.

If a manufacturer wants to release a handset with Google Play support, they’ll have to do better than Gingerbread or ICS.

Basically it works like this: starting this month, Google reportedly no longer will certify any Android device running anything lower than Android 4.2. Android 4.2’s approval window is then expected to close come April 24th, with Android 4.3’s approval window closing on July 31st.

So how will Google determine how long an “approval window” is open for each version of Android? According to the memo:

Each platform release will have a “GMS approval window” that typically closes nine months after the next Android platform release is publicly available. (In other words, we all have nine months to get new products on the latest platform after its public release.)

Considering Google generally releases two versions of Android a year, this means that Google is looking to ensure that new devices are never approved with anything that is more than two versions behind. Of course, devices often get approval long before the handset or tablet hits the market, so it’s still conceivable that newly released budget devices from smaller OEMs will run copies of Android that are as much as three versions behind.

It’s also important to note that Google will not strip a device of its certification just because an “approval window” has closed, so this change will not force OEMs to update their devices any faster.

So what does this change really mean? Who does it affect?

If this change doesn’t force quicker updates and really means that new devices could still ship with versions of Android that are at least three versions behind, what’s the point?

For those that buy mid and high-end devices from major manufacturers, this change will mean absolutely nothing to you. Where this change really matters is in emerging markets such as India. If a manufacturer in an emerging market wants to release a handset with Google Play support, they’ll have to do better than Gingerbread or ICS. This move also matters for budget consumers or non-techies in major markets.

Where this change really matters is in emerging markets such as India

Remember that Google has yet to confirm this report, so there’s still a possibility that this rumor could be false. We’ve reached out to our Android OEM contacts for comment and will update the post accordingly. Still, this rumor makes a lot of sense for Google.

For one thing, Google constantly talks about reaching the “next billion users” and it’s pretty obvious that these users are to be found in emerging and budget markets. If Google wants to reach these folks and give them a proper impression of Android, so they stick with the platform, they need to kill the perception of Android fragmentation. Helping put older versions of Android to pasture is certainly a good start.

What do you think of this change, will it have a major impact on Android perception? Are you surprised Google doesn’t already have a policy like this in place? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Jack Parker

    There’s no stopping OEMs from Upgrading a ICS device to jellybean because JB is just ICS with a few added features. And then there’s no stopping them from going from JB To KitKat because KitKat requires less.

    They could, to make people happy, release a software update that gives them the latest version but on stock android. Consumers are happy their getting an update. Googles happy about less fragmentation. And OEMs would get more Sales.

    Come on its not that hard

  • Xavier_NYC

    This would be a welcomed change. No reason why someone should be stuck on ICS when Kit Kat is available.

    • Nourin

      There’s one good reason: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

      Last time I upgraded from Froyo to GB, my favorite apps & games are suddenly force close. Left me in agony for almost 2 weeks.

      I will not repeat the same mistake. Satisfied with ICS now, I will not upgrade until phone breaks, malware taking over it, or NSA knock on my door (whichever comes first).

      • poop

        So one experience has done you in permanently? You really should move forward. I bet you if you ever get that Jelly Bean update on whatever device you’re using (or if it’s already available and you download it), you’ll be satisfied, and you won’t run into that force-closing problem that likely occurred on a wholly different device.

      • Xavier_NYC

        Nourin: With that kind of thinking we would never evolve as a species. Oh a tube tv ain’t broke so don’t fix it..

        • igy

          You have to understand that this will bring too much bugs because of fast developing for many devivces.

      • Chris Eager

        Yeah, that theory is just plain stupid.

      • Timmy

        This is why I won’t change my diet or stop smoking because they taste good and make me feel better about myself. Red meat, fatty foods and tar. No reason to improve on those things.

  • Jose Torres

    I don’t understand why OEM’s are allowing for devices to ship with older versions anyway? How much more in cost or effort is it to install KitKat on a device than, say, ICS?

    • AndroidBoss

      Like $1,000,000,000, that’s why…

    • Mike Reid

      This is about killing GingerBread (and ICS) on the cheapest of the cheap devices. Like, never heard of companies in China cheap. The slightly “better” stuff ends up as the worst at Walmart, LOL.

      Those devices have no margin for any of the cheapest manufacturers to hire a single software engineer, unless it’s a cheap engineer for just a few hours. They mostly just copy the chip OEMs old original sample build, warts and all.

      • j_ee

        These phones you talk about are not Google certified anyway and feature other app stores (like amazon, aptoid, etc…). So this step will not have an effect on them whatsoever.

  • apianist16

    This is a smart move for Google. Especially since the latest version of Android often runs smoother than the previous iterations.

  • John Doe

    KitKat was re-engineered for just this point.. Older phone types that are lacking in the processor and memory departments (tho not necessarily just Older Phones).
    Google has to do better than just what is suggested here.. they need to say that any new phone that is created/developed (say) 4 months after a new OS is rolled out HAS to have at least THAT OS or better, and allow for a 18 month update window.
    I know that most Android phones are part of the 18 months update cycle, but most low cost phones never get upgraded past what they come with, and in emerging markets that makes hundreds of thousands of phones stay at ICS or worse…
    Another way to force manufactures to update their phones is to get apps to be OS specific.
    I know that that sounds like a terrible idea, but if apps could be made to run on some of the latest OS’s then users would only buy the latest phones forcing manufactures to keep their phone OS’s upgraded on ALL phones (Ok .. not one of my best ideas .. lol)…
    Or people just buy phones like the Motorola G …
    I have the Nexus5 just because I was sick and tired of not getting an upgrade on my old Samsung Note phone …

    • poop

      That last idea will definitely never happen. That will instantaneously boost fragmentation. As for the first one, it’s not far-fetched, but it’s not likely either. Assume the device has been in development for much longer, and now it must have its release postponed a bit now that its OS will definitely be out of date for shipping before they’re finished.

      What this rumor is establishing is easy to grasp and sensible; it’ll work, and there’s no reason for a manufacturer to have old stuff that far ahead. There’s also definitely no reason why a low-end device today should be releasing with Android 2.3.

    • Christian Harris

      Apple uses the same approach. If you did not update your iPhone 3GS or iPod 4th Generation, then you did not get iOS 7 (mainly because the processers can’t run it and there would be a lot of force closing etc). You also can’t download apps from the app store if your phone has iOS 4 and below.

  • Sharath

    This is great,this should have been done very early.

  • Greg C

    this will stop oem’s from taking forever to release new models and shipping them with older versions of android.

  • Andrew White

    I’m certain I actually suggested this push in a recent blog. My want is to diminish Apple and its influence on multiple levels and one obvious way to do this is to get Jelly Bean, but preferably Kitkat onto every new handset sold.
    All Android based smartphone manufacturers really need to get on board and not only supply the hardware but push the advantages of using ‘Open Source’ through dedicated combined marketing.

  • AbbyZFresh

    And what if OEMs don’t want to do it? What will they do if they refuse?

  • guy with guts

    The first thing the way google analyses state of android is misleading because here in india many people dont use play store. Hell even some people dont use internet on phones. And the internet application dont go further than facebook and whatsapp. So most people wont need google services here(count me out).

    • AbbyZFresh

      So, without the play store use, barebones internet browsing, and the use of only Facebook and WhatsApp. Basically you guys don’t really need Android phones at all. Sounds to me like Blackberry would’ve been selling well if Android phones weren’t available in India.

      • Joaquin Padilla Rivero

        That’s actually the bane of Android, and not just in the developing markets. A majority of users got their phones from carriers without regard to their smartpone capabilities and use their phone just like a featurephone: phone calls, messaging, some pictures and bye bye..

    • colin


  • Sur

    Google should have done this earlier

  • DarxideGarrison

    Its all about money when it comes to OEMs and carriers. If the Samsung GS3 or GS4 (let’s say for example) got a Kit Kat update this week, how many users would actually upgrade to the upcoming GS5? Not many unless they are due for a service upgrade. Another example my 2012 Note 10.1 has the specs to run Kit Kat or even at least 4.3 but sadly its still on 4.1.2 and I’m sure Samsung isn’t gonna push an update to it although it sold more units than the 2014 edition which came with 4.3 out the box. Google and OEMs need to understand not everyone is going to keep buying the latest device when their current one is capable of handling software updates and upgrades. That 18 month rule should be abolished! Update them until the hardware can no longer take it!

  • xPnoyStar

    This is Google’s fault too, that OEMs can’t update their handsets, because they bring every
    year two Android versions, which are really not necessary.

    That’s only my opinion

    • SSDROiD

      That’s hilarious. You really expect that to be a proper reason for OEMs not to update?

  • fredphoesh


  • Hmm

    Google should be doing this a long time ago!
    This is my story, i bought my Xperia S on March 2012 with Android 2.3(GB) out of the box, but the truth is Android 4.0(ICS) was launch on October 2011(around 4-5 months already). Technically Xperia S just got 1 major update which is 4.0(ICS) –> 4.1(JB), and like Sony claim 2 major update on Xperia S was totally BS!

  • jonathan3579

    This needs to be enforced much harder. Honestly, I still think the window is too large.

  • I think the next step in fragmentation reduction is moving to an annual release rather than a semi-annual release.

  • doode

    All phones should be updated within six months or have their approval revoked….PERIOD!!! The update system of Android phones is garbage at it’s best and complete horseshit at it’s worse. Until the system is changed Apple will ALWAYS be better than Android in regards to updates.

  • Tran Nguyen

    WTF Motorola (Google owner) and Verizon didn’t upgrade new version for Motorola Droid Razr Max (4.1.0). This device had been forgotten a long time. OS response slowly, never got 4g signal. All apps were updated automatically. That’s not make sense and ridiculous.

  • wezi427

    I think that Google also needs to change the policy of 18 month support, why not increase the amount if time? I understand that it costs money, but companies need to support the consumer.

  • Hellz

    biggest problem for updating device is integrating “garbage” OEMs put on devices. if they cant handle updates they should just ask google for help in updating drivers n shit, leave out that crap they put in phones and let users enjoy newer(almost always much better) versions of OS

  • Christian Harris

    Some carriers (or just about all of them) like to lock their users in lower versions of Android so they’ll buy a newer phone to get the latest update. Meaning, that if you buy a cheap Android phone, unless it’s by Motrola or Google themselves, it will almost always come with

  • rubbaluvva

    also they should be forcing them to stop including all the crapware and dodgy interfaces they insist on polluting android with.

  • Exhack2

    Very good idea. I own a four or five year—old HTC Desire HD phone. I got one software update after I bought it. When the next upgrade became available HTC just said it ‘wouldn’t improve the user’s experience’ and they weren’t going to issue it. Another irritating habit of phone makers is that they stick apps on phones that you can’t get rid of. HTC ‘gave’ me Twitter, which I hate, but every time Twitter issue an update I get almost daily prompts and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. I’ll never buy another HTC phone, no matter how good.

  • radiotrib

    This is only ever going to work if Google insist that the CARRIERS improve their approval process and make them stop loading the phones with unnecessary junk on top of the OEMs chosen interface and UX. Most manufacturers have releases ready in a timely manner but the CARRIERS hold up the final releases for their own reasons. I’m no Apple fan and don’t use their phones, but this is why Apple manages to have clean, timely releases. Firstly they don’t announce a release until its ready .. which the OEMs can’t do because Google always annnounces raw Android up front. Secondly Apple don’t allow CARRIERS to load up their phones with bullsh.