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Google just surrendered its update authority to Samsung
As exciting as the new Galaxy S22 hardware is, it’s Samsung’s new five-year update pledge that has caught my eye. With a promise of four years worth of OS updates and five years of security patches, Samsung’s guarantee is the best in the Android business and is closing in on Apple’s coveted level of long-term support. That means the Galaxy S22 series will see support right out until Android 16 sometime in the 2025/2026 window. Talk about a lifetime away.
Even more astounding is that Samsung is backdating its pledge to include older devices as well. So not only does this apply to the brand new Samsung Galaxy S22 series, but the entire Galaxy S21 range, the Galaxy S21 FE, foldable Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, as well as its new Galaxy Tab S8 tablet range. Not forgetting that the company already promises a rather decent three years of OS updates for some of its less expensive smartphones as well. Simply put, Samsung is now well and truly out in front of the pack when it comes to both the length and breadth of its smartphone update policy. So major kudos here.
Samsung is well out in front with both the length and breadth of its update policy
You may have noticed that Samsung’s latest policy is even better than Google’s three OS and five years of security pledge that came with the Pixel 6 series. Big G’s Android update lead lasted all of a few months. Even at the time, we weren’t convinced that Google had done enough to lead from the front, and it hasn’t taken long for Samsung to show that Google, and everyone else, can do better when it comes to long-term support.
Read more: Google’s Pixel 6 update promise is not good enough
Consumers are tired of excuses
Still, both Google and Samsung are doing much better than the industry at large. Other major brands like OnePlus, OPPO, vivo, and Xiaomi only offer three years of OS updates to a handful of their most expensive smartphones. If you’re running a mid-tier phone, you’ll be lucky to see two OS upgrades, while Google and Samsung offer much longer support for their inexpensive models. Although it’s great that these two are duking it out for the top spot (someone has to), millions of other Android users are still missing out on long-term support.
What’s particularly frustrating about the broader Android update situation is that we’ve heard lots of noise from various parties about the difficulties and improvements made in bringing updates to Android devices. Google and its partners put a lot of work into initiatives like 2017’s Project Treble, 2019’s Project Mainline, and working with chipset vendors like Qualcomm to support four Android OS versions since the end of 2020. Yet it’s taken until 2022 for Samsung to maximize the update potential now available.
At this point, manufacturer willingness is more of a barrier than any technological issue.
As such, there’s no reasonable excuse for not matching Samsung’s level of long-term support. It’s certainly not chipset support or avenues for delivering updates; those bottlenecks have been resolved. Case in point, Google jumped ship to its own Tensor chipset, but the move didn’t result in the anticipated level of longer-term support. The Pixel 6 will receive two additional years of security updates compared to its predecessor. A welcome improvement but hardly the game-changer many had been expecting.
As important as security updates are, it’s OS and feature updates that keep devices feeling fresh and modern over their lifespan. This is particularly important in an age where technological innovation has slowed, prices are high, and consumers expect to keep their smartphones for many years.
See also: The yearly smartphone model is obsolete, software-first is the future
What’s stopping you, Google?
With that in mind, there’s nothing preventing brands from retroactively improving their update promise for 2021 smartphones. If Samsung can bring longer updates to last year’s smartphones and tablets, all while relying on third-party silicon, what’s stopping Google and the industry at large from doing the same?
Google has done this in the past, bringing Android 10 to the OG Pixel when it could have left users on Android 9 Pie. It’s also worth noting that the Pixel 6 support page lists OS upgrades “until at least” October 2024, so the phone could be supported beyond that. Still, a commitment in advance is much better than a potential surprise when the phone is supposedly reaching its end of life.
Remember, Google added an extra OS update to the OG Pixel and the Pixel 6 will see OS updates until at least 2024.
So the ball’s in your court, Google. Can you match the Galaxy update pledge and bring four OS updates to the Pixel 6? Or are you happy to let Samsung show the Android ecosystem how to support their products properly?