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A tiny smartphone company just brought a new Android version to a 2015 device
Android doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to newer versions of the operating system hitting older devices. However, a company called Fairphone is trying to buck that trend in the name of environmentalism and sustainability. In that vein, the company just announced it is bringing Android 9 Pie to its 2015 Fairphone 2.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Android 9 Pie is very close to being two years old at this point, so who cares? The first thing you should understand is that the Fairphone 2 launched with Android 5.1 Lollipop, which feels like it came out a lifetime ago. The second thing you should note is that the Fairphone 2 packs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, which will make it the only phone with that processor to get Android 9 Pie from its manufacturer.
If it’s not clear why this is impressive, let me explain.
Fairphone 2: Now the only phone of its kind
When Google releases a new version of Android it pushes it through the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). This is a “pure” version of Android with no Google apps, no skin, no tweaks of any kind. For that AOSP version to work with chipset hardware, silicon manufacturers need to alter the code so it will work properly with their systems.
Once that process is complete, the smartphone manufacturer then needs to take the silicon manufacturer’s version of Android and tweak it again so that it will work properly on its phones. This is one of the reasons why it can take a while for new versions of Android to hit even the most recent flagships.
However, in the case of the Fairphone 2 — which, once again, is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 — Qualcomm never released an AOSP variant based on Android 7.1 Nougat (or anything newer) for that chipset. That means Fairphone needed to tweak Nougat itself (with the help of the development team behind Lineage OS) so that it would work with the 801, and it’s having to do the same with Android 9 Pie. This is an enormous undertaking for such a small company, which is why the 2015 Fairphone 2 getting Android 9 shouldn’t be seen as “slow,” but rather incredibly impressive.
It says a lot about the state of Android that Qualcomm abandoned its 801 chipset after less than two years. It’s almost as if the company is intentionally trying to hinder the longevity of its products to force consumers to upgrade, isn’t it?
Fairphone is sticking to its ideals
If you’re not familiar with Fairphone and the Fairphone 2, the company makes Android smartphones that are ethically sourced and environmentally sound. The phones are built with repairability in mind (yes, they have swappable batteries) and will continue to receive software and security updates for many, many years.
Even though the Fairphone 2 came out in 2015, the company is still standing behind its cause and supporting the device with this Android 9 Pie upgrade. While it would certainly be nice to see Android 11 instead (or even Android 10), the company is very small and is fighting against an industry that is built on making products that can’t be easily fixed and don’t receive long-term support in an effort to force you to buy more phones.
This true David-and-Goliath story should not only paint a clear picture of the ethical problems of the smartphone industry as a whole, but also prove that huge companies like Samsung, HUAWEI, LG, etc., have the power to do much more than they currently do when it comes to designing and supporting devices that last.