Apple’s iPhones have long been lauded for their ability to support updates four or five years down the line, and it looks like Android phones are finally on their way to getting similar support. Google and Qualcomm have announced a new collaboration that will result in enhanced and prolonged chipset-level support for software updates, allowing Snapdragon-based phones to receive up to three updates (four versions of Android in total, including the version they ship with), and making it easier than ever for phone makers to build updates for their phones.
The new collaboration builds on Google’s Project Treble system, which Google initiated in 2017 in an effort to make Android more modular, and as a result, easier to update. With Treble, phone makers can update the top-level interface of the phone, including any major changes to Android, without touching the low-level software that talks directly to the hardware. But that doesn’t mean phone makers can just make changes irrespective of the low-level code — they still need to work with chipset makers, which means Qualcomm in most cases, on major updates.
But now, Qualcomm is making a commitment. The company says devices based on Snapdragon chipsets will get support for four major Android versions, and four years of security patches.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily guarantee four years of updates will come to all Snapdragon-based phones, though it does remove a significant hurdle for phone manufacturers. Companies like Samsung, LG, Motorola, and OnePlus still have to tweak Android code to work on their phones, and as a result, it still take lots of work and time to get an update released. Don’t expect to get an Android update on day 1 on your Samsung device. After all, Qualcomm and Google aren’t the ones that actually deliver updates to your Android phone (unless you have a Pixel), so some work is still required from the companies that make your phone.
According to Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 888 is the first chipset to support four years of updates, but the support will be available on all future Qualcomm chipsets. Presumably, this includes lower-end chipsets, like those in the 4-series and 6-series, which is in many cases more important because they’re in the phones that have the worst update track record. In other words, this could benefit budget phones more so than flagship ones.
While the reason for this change is very technical, the basic gist is that with Project Treble, Google made it easier for smartphone companies to update their phones. The other side of that coin, however, is that was only easier for manufacturers because some of the work required to deliver updates was pushed to chipset makers. Google and Qualcomm have now been working to reduce that workload a little, and as a result, Google is bringing some of the modularity of Android updates to the chipset level.
It remains to be seen whether manufacturers will actually take advantage of this, but it is a major step toward faster Android updates, and for longer periods of time.