Earlier this week, OnePlus officially launched the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T Android 10 update. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s the fourth version of Android to land on the OnePlus 5 — it started with Android 7.1.1 Nougat and received Oreo, Pie, and now Android 10.
Our hats are off to OnePlus on this one. The list of Android phones that receive four versions of the operating system is quite small while the lists of phones that receive three, two, or even just one are much, much longer.
Initially, I planned on writing an opinion article about how awesome it is that this OnePlus 5/5T Android 10 update exists. Then I thought more about it and realized that I shouldn’t need to praise a company for delivering full Android upgrades to three-year-old devices. I shouldn’t need to because that should be the norm.
Software updates should be essential
Earlier this year, smart speaker company Sonos got into some PR hot water surrounding its Recycle Mode program, which is an update that intentionally bricks older speakers. The company’s explanation for this was one of “sustainability,” but the public saw right through it. The outcry against this was swift and Sonos eventually ended the program.
Now, if the OnePlus 5/5T Android 10 update didn’t land, it’s not like the millions of devices around the world would suddenly cease functioning. Without the latest Android updates, though, the phones would be less safe, slower, and less feature-rich than other newer phones.
One could argue that this is kind of the point: phones should only be around for a year or two before you upgrade them. However, that’s not how most other tech objects in our lives work. Laptops don’t work like that. Televisions, home theatre systems, kitchen appliances, car stereos, and even cars themselves all are designed to last much longer than two years. Granted, most of those items don’t need regular software updates to stay fresh, but that shouldn’t matter. What should matter is that you bought a phone and the company should do whatever it can to make it last for as long as it is physically capable.
The two-year upgrade cycle is just in the phone world. Most other pieces of tech we own don't fall under this guise.
Once again, the OnePlus 5/5T Android 10 update doesn’t have any effect on how long the phones can keep working. But smartphone companies’ assumption that after two years it’s “optional” to keep their products up-to-date is awfully convenient for them and woefully inadequate for us, the consumers.
Simply put, consistent and extensive operating system updates for Android phones should be an essential cornerstone of the industry. This OnePlus 5/5T Android 10 update shows us that that is not the case.
As usual, vote with your wallet
Only a few weeks ago, Motorola got into similar hot water as Sonos did. The company could only confirm that it’s $1,000 Motorola Edge Plus smartphone would get just one Android update. Considering the phone debuted with Android 10, that means the company could only confirm that it would receive Android 11 — which is only a few months away from a stable release.
After public outcry to this news (including us here at Android Authority), Motorola updated its stance on the issue. Instead of committing to just one Android update, it committed to — wait for it — two Android updates. Surprisingly, a lot of people were appeased by this.
The Motorola Edge Plus is literally $1,000. The OnePlus 5 launched for $479 in 2017. Here we are, talking about how a phone half the price of Motorola’s flagship is literally doubling the number of Android updates.
That makes Motorola look bad, sure, but it’s annoying that it makes OnePlus look great. As soon as you venture out of the Android world, the OnePlus 5/5T Android 10 update would be ho-hum news. Apple issues updates to most iPhones for four years at a minimum and has only extended that deadline as time has gone on. Similarly, macOS users expect many years of software updates as do Windows users. Windows XP received regular updates for 12 years before Microsoft pulled the plug, and Windows 7 got 10 years.
The best way us Android users can turn the tide is to vote with our wallets. If you value Android updates — and you really do — then you should only buy phones from companies that take them seriously. OnePlus does, clearly, but there are plenty of other companies that don’t. Even the mighty Samsung still only updates its flagships for two years. That company’s 2017 flagships (the Galaxy S8 series and Galaxy Note 8) received their final Android updates to Pie late last year. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, a $1,400 phone, is similarly expected to get just two years of updates, which is, frankly, insulting.
We can’t change the policies of these companies through pleas in support forums or even articles such as these. They will only listen when their bottom line gets hit, so let’s start hitting it.