If you want the latest Android version as soon as possible, the Google Pixel range is definitely your best bet. Historically, other Android manufacturers were less reliable. Although some are faster and more consistent with security and version updates than others. That makes consumers a little confused when buying a device that will see long-term support.
With Project Treble now supported by major Android flagships, theoretically updates must be launched to us faster than before. Now it's been five months since Android Pie was launched – does the data confirm Google's optimism about faster updates?
Let's see the data
The data in the graph below plots the time between the release date of the Android version and the first OEM report that was confirmed to launch updates for phones that are not locked on a global scale. I saw the main device that was announced long before the announcement of the new Android OS, so we can fully assess the time of improvement. This list includes the Samsung Galaxy S series, the Huawei P range, and the LG G model.
On average, Nougat updates take about 192 days to reach the main device, while Oreo is slightly faster at 170. Android Pie updates about devices are faster, on average only 118 days from Google launch to significant OEM launches. That's a significant improvement, even though we are still waiting for updates from LG and HTC, which can drag this average back.
Most manufacturers are faster to provide updates now, but some are slower. Huawei, Samsung and Xiaomi feel faster this time, bringing updates to the main devices before the end of 2018. OnePlus and Sony are very fast, but they are always faster than most. Disappointing, Motorola has launched an update for its flagship Z series in the past few years.
Small OEMs are updating their phones faster but big brands are closing the gap
One last point of note. This data does not include longer device update times or how manufacturers treat middle-class smartphones. Both of these categories still receive updates, especially slower than the main flagship launch. However, the situation seems to improve with some OEMs with the launch of Android Pie.
Treble and One helped
Sorting through various smartphone update articles, there are two main trends that I have identified. First, Project Treble has helped large manufacturers update their Oreo-based phones much faster than before. Second, Android One enables much faster updates for wider consumers.
Looking back at the data, you will notice that Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi cut their update time by almost half between Nougat and Pie, with the biggest jump occurring in the latest update. The three producers pushed for updates to flagship cellphones before 2019. In previous years they delayed updates until the end of Q1 or Q2 the following year.
This is important because these phones are some of the biggest sellers. Samsung Galaxy S9, Huawei P20 Pro, and Xiaomi Mi 8 are in the hands of many consumers, and most will now use Pie. Unfortunately, Google's distribution number hasn't included Android 9.0, but we can expect the adoption of the latest OS which is much faster because of this.
Project Treble has cut months of waiting time for major phones
Beyond the big budget flagships, many lower-cost phones have run Android Pie too. This phone is dominated by Android One models, including those from Nokia and Xiaomi. Interestingly, LG already has a 9.0 Pie update for the LG G7 One, while the usual LG G7 ThinQ model is still awaiting its global launch. Similarly, the HTC U11 Life has a Pie in front of the flagship HTC U12 Plus.
The reason this initiative provides so fast updates is that Android One devices run OS inventory. There are no special skins, software, or applications to update and test compatibility, unlike handsets with more complex features from Samsung and others. Combined with Treble simplifying the driver layer, it's fast for manufacturers to take Google and flash updates to their devices.
There is still a lot to do
The number of main Pie updates that have been available so far provides a good picture for Google's latest OS version. However, there is still a big difference between the fastest producers and the slowest – the clearest gap we want to take a closer look at. Not to mention that middle class and older devices are often quickly forgotten. In the ideal world, we want to see all smartphones receiving updates for more than two years.
The real test for Android will come with the next major OS update. Can manufacturers provide consistent security updates, as well as major OS improvements? Will the device last year continue to see support at this pace? Will the Treble finally help end Android's fragmentation problem that has been going on for a long time?