Two things that happened the other day got me thinking about the strange situation Pixel users have found themselves in regarding the promised quick updates.
First, Samsung released a new Android 10 beta for the Galaxy S9 that includes the January 2020 security patch. It wouldn’t be the first time a company pushes out next month’s patch in advance, but it’s pretty striking nevertheless.
Second, I wrote a quick post about the Pixel 3a selling for $360 on Amazon. As I was writing it, I almost mechanically wanted to say that Pixel phones come with the “guarantee” of fast updates. Then I remembered that some Pixel 4 users are still stuck on the October security patch. I replaced “guarantee” with “promise,” though frankly this promise looks more like an ill-defined aspiration, than a serious pledge.
We understand your concern. We’ve started rolling out December security patch update and your Pixel phone should receive it soon. Updates are released in phases and you’ll receive a notification once it comes through. Appreciate your patience
— Made by Google (@madebygoogle) December 19, 2019
A quick check of Reddit, Twitter, and the comment sections of Android websites will surface dozens of examples of Pixel users stuck on outdated security patches, wondering what happened to the promise of quick updates.
It doesn’t help that Google just announced the first Feature Drop for the Pixel 4, and that, you guessed it, many Pixel 4 users still haven’t got that either.
This redditor posting on r/GooglePixel sums it up pretty well:
Has anyone else not gotten the “Feature Drop” from December? I’m kind of disheartened that it’s taking so long as this is one of the reasons I buy pixels.
I am not going to harp on the potential reasons why Google has delayed the November patch or the December patch, or why the promised Feature Drop is still a no-show for some. Technology is complicated, and these things are sometimes unavoidable.
It’s harder to pardon Google’s lack of communication on the matter — or the fact that the infamous “check update” button, which was supposed to trigger an update to the latest OTA, is still not working as promised. The feature was first announced in September 2017 for Android 8 Oreo and despite being initially bugged, a fix was rolled out in early 2018. Not so much, apparently.
For what is worth, the update issues appear to affect a minority of users. I got both the December patch and last week’s Feature Drop on my own Pixel 4 XL, as did two of my colleagues. Your mileage may vary.
Google is damaging one of the areas where it actually has a stellar reputation as a smartphone maker.
This particular issue may come and go, but the damage to Google’s reputation may be lasting. I already wrote extensively about Google’s reputation, and how it’s becoming one of its biggest problems. With these missing Pixel 4 updates, Google is damaging one of the areas where it actually has a stellar reputation as a smartphone maker.
The solid update policy has always been one of the reasons we’ve recommended Pixel phones, and Nexus devices before it. In a sea of mediocre efforts, Pixels stood out as the only credible Android counterpart to iPhones, which offer both faster updates and longer update periods.
How can we at Android Authority — or any other tech media — still say in good faith that buying a Google Pixel will get you fast updates? It’s definitely becoming difficult for me personally.
The Pixel 4 stands out in precious few ways — I love the design, the camera quality is still great (with some qualifiers), and it offers some amazing software features, like Astrophotography mode and Recorder. Are timely updates still a selling point? Arguably, yes, for now, as long as the delays don’t become constant. Also, as long as the promised Feature Drops actually come on time; it’s one thing to wait out for a security patch, another to miss out on cool new features.
Ironically, Google has worked hard to improve updates across the Android ecosystem. The rollout of new Android versions is accelerating, and more companies now offer monthly security patches, early betas and fairly timely system updates. OnePlus stands out as a great example, but even former laggards like Samsung and Huawei have improved their game dramatically compared to a few years ago. Google needs to do better to stand out against this background.
I admit I’m holding Google to a very high standard here — perhaps an unattainable one. But that’s the whole point, no? The Pixel line is supposed to lead by example. And what example is Google giving here?