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Analysis shows Android OEMs are still terrible at updates

Delayed Android updates have been a reality of the platform almost as long as it has existed. An increased focus on security in the last few years has made for better incremental updates, but it’s the big OS updates everyone craves. Those are, unfortunately, still slow to materialize according to an analysis by ComputerWorld’s Android Intelligence blog. Most OEMs are mediocre, but a few are given failing grades.

Android Intelligence used data from the Marshmallow update to grade six of the top US Android device makers. Now that Marshmallow is six months old, you’d think everyone would have gotten those updates out the door. Well, you’d only think that if you’re new to Android. The grading takes into account how long it took to get Marshmallow on the current generation model (when Marshmallow was released), the previous-gen model, and a few points for communication.

At the top of the Android Intelligence list is Google, which should come as no surprise. With a 95% rating, Google gets updates out the door to all Nexus devices within weeks of the new version being announced, and the rollouts technically begin on day one. It only lost points for mediocre communication. Close behind Google is HTC (86% B), which managed to get Marshmallow on the M9 and M8 in less than three months. It is also good about keeping everyone in the loop via Twitter.

Then we take a dip downward with LG at 71% — that’s a C- according to Android Intelligence. The G4 got Marshmallow (on most carriers) in under three months, but the G3 was only updated recently. LG also got no points for communication. Motorola got a failing grade of 52%, thanks to its recent decision to abandon carrier versions of the 2014 Moto X and the 2015 Moto E. The way it tried to sneak that announcement past us also lost it all its communication bonus points. At least the 2015 Moto X Pure got its Marshmallow update in under two months.

Moto update

Just a bit behind Moto is Samsung with 49%. The Galaxy S6 and Note 5 still haven’t been updated on some carriers, and the older Galaxy S5 and Note 4 are still waiting. Not a single variant of the GS5 has been updated. Android Intelligence also threw in BlackBerry, which launched its first Android phone last last year with Lollipop. It gets a big fat zero because its sole phone is still running Lollipop.

So, why are Android updates still so sluggish? This data is specifically related to the US versions of the phone, which come with a host of additional issues. Carrier certification in the US can add weeks or months to the update process, and indeed, the unlocked international versions are usually updated long before carrier versions.

It requires time and effort to build updates for smartphones as the hardware and software are closely linked in the name of efficiency. You can’t just take Google’s Nexus ROM and flash it on a Galaxy S6. OEMs are basically spending money on building free updates for phones that they’ve already sold. It’s not exactly a top priority.

It would be nice to get the latest version of Android on all devices, but that’s not the way the platform works right now. Google has moved some important features into Play Services, which is delivered to all devices in the background. Features like Smart Lock, location services, malware scanning, data backup, and more are kept up to date by Play Services. At least OEMs can’t screw that up.

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