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

According to a new rumor, Google may soon force OEMs to ship new devices with relatively new versions of Android, at least if they want to officially run Google apps.
February 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.