If there’s one thing about Android that Google desperately wants to fix, it’s updates. Unless you’re buying a Pixel or an Android One phone, you’re never really sure whether you’re going to get updates as they’re available or, really, at all.

It’s a question whether you’re buying a thousand-dollar Galaxy Note 9 or something much cheaper: What’s going to happen to my phone in 6, 12, or 24 months?

Now Google is trying to make sure everyone has the same answer to that question. According to a report in The Verge, Google’s latest Android partner contract finally includes language that mandates security updates for a minimum of two years, lest the OEM in question lose future phone approval.

That all sounds well and good on paper, but it’s not like Google is playing hardball here. The requirements are about as light as they can be and apply to a relatively small subset of phones. As The Verge reports, the terms:

  1. Cover devices launched after January 31, 2018;
  2. Apply to phones with at least 100,000 activations;
  3. Stipulate only quarterly security updates for the first year;
  4. Place no minimum on security updates in the second year; and
  5. Make no mention of version updates.

Same old, same old

For many users, things aren’t going to change much. Samsung already updates its phones with security patches at least four times a year, as does Huawei, LG, Lenovo, Nokia, Sony, and others. In fact, for some of the phones, meeting Google’s bare-minimum requirements would actually represent fewer updates, not more.

mate 20 notchAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

Phone makes like Huawei already offer far more than 4 security updates per year.

Things probably won’t change too much even for phones that aren’t updated as regularly. Taking the contract at its literal word, Google requires only 5 updates over 24 months. This means phones that are woefully behind on security patches will probably still be woefully behind on security updates this time next year.

Let’s say a phone is released January 15, 2019, and reaches the 100,000-sold activation trigger. By next October it could be running Android 8 Oreo with July’s security patch and still technically be in full compliance with Google’s contract.

Listen, this is a good start, albeit a late one. Android is on its 9th major revision and 16th overall, and Google is only just now getting around to mandating security updates for its partners. But cool, I’m on board with the change, I just wish Google had gone further.



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