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Here's what MediaTek is doing about slow Android updates, lack of source code

MediaTek phones have a reputation for tardy updates and missing source code, but the company has now outlined its plans.

Published onNovember 19, 2018

The MediaTek logo at the company's Hsinchu HQ.
  • MediaTek CEO Rick Tsai says it’s devoting resources and restructuring its software workforce to deliver faster updates.
  • The company is also considering the release of source code to the public, but it won’t happen in “the near future.”

MediaTek doesn’t traditionally have the best reputation for Android updates, but the company has been touting one solution in the GMS Express initiative.

The service, which launched late last year, is meant to speed up certification processes for manufacturers using MediaTek chipsets. This initiative lets MediaTek ship a more complete, pre-certified version of Android to manufacturers, complete with Google Mobile Services. TL Lee, general manager of the company’s mobile business unit, elaborated on the reception thus far in an interview with Android Authority at MediaTek’s HQ in Taiwan.

Lee said that phone manufacturers traditionally need to send their devices to third-party testing labs (3PL) for Google Mobile Service certification.

Read: What to look for when buying a $100 smartphone

“However the problem is that it takes so long for OEMs to get a certificate. So Google worked with MediaTek for a project called GMS Express Plus. So MediaTek set up a lab in Shenzhen and in Delhi. And we provide the certification service to the phone manufacturers,” Lee said.

The general manager says the traditional route for Google Mobile Service certification took roughly three months, which means a phone is likely to be shipping with an outdated version of Android or an older security patch. But the representative says their certification process takes a week. This gives manufacturers more time to implement the latest firmware and security updates.

A restructured workforce for quicker updates?

The back of the realme 1.
The MediaTek-powered realme 1.

The GMS Express service isn’t the only way MediaTek is trying to improve matters, according to CEO Rick Tsai. The executive said the company was “pouring a lot of software resources” into Android. Tsai added that MediaTek was also restructuring its software workforce so it can deliver updates more efficiently.

Time will tell whether restructuring and more resources will indeed deliver results. After all, we’ve heard promises of faster updates from various brands before.

A question of source code

What if a manufacturer simply doesn’t want to push out updates to a MediaTek-powered phone? That’s where source code comes in, as hobbyist developers can craft custom ROMs for specific phones if they have access to the chipset’s source code.

Unfortunately, Qualcomm devices have become the go-to option for developers. This is because, unlike MediaTek, the U.S. company usually releases its source code to the public.

“So far, we don’t have that kind of program. We just release our source code to our customers,” Lee told Android Authority. Could we see the company eventually deliver code to the public?

Here's what MediaTek has planned for 5G in 2019 and beyond
The MediaTek M70 5G modem.

“We are considering this, but so far we think our priority is still to provide our customer with a better service (sic). And I can share with you that we do release our source code to our partners.”

Nevertheless, Lee reiterated that they don’t have a plan “in the near future” to release source code to the public. It’s rather unfortunate, as source code would be an immense help when it comes to custom ROM development.

Do you take the processor brand into account when buying a new smartphone? Let us know in the comments!

NEXT: eSIM — Pros and cons of the new way to connect

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