Why does it take so long to get an Android upgrade?

// September 23rd, 2012 // Technology


UpgradeGoogle releases a new version of Android and maybe, just maybe, several months later your phone will finally receive the upgrade. Sometimes it takes a year or longer and sometimes your phone never gets upgraded at all. The upgrade process involves several entities – Google of course, the hardware manufacturer of your phone, and your carrier. The process is fairly complex and this complexity is one reason Motorola and other manufacturers are moving to a more stable device rollout schedule with only a few devices released on an annual basis.

Android Robot and SmartphonesOnce the “Google Experience Device” (the selected device that will showcase the new OS upgrade) receives their upgrade the source code is made public shortly thereafter. The hardware manufacturer of your phone will then take the public source code and begin adapting it for your device. If the manufacturer typically distributes a “plain vanilla” version of Android then they don’t hold on to the code for very long but if they do fairly extensive enhancements to the standard code base (usually GUI enhancements) then it may take some time for them to incorporate these changes. In some cases this step can take nearly a year to complete. While the hardware manufacturer is making their changes, device driver companies (e.g. Qualcomm, TI, NVidia) adapt their drivers to the new OS code base too.

After the custom changes are complete, the code is stabilized and “baked” meaning the manufacturer prepares the upgrade to meet the quality and stability requirements of your wireless carrier. Once the code is baked, it is sent to the wireless carrier for certification. The wireless carrier’s in-house lab will test the device upgrade and if it passes, the carrier will “certify” the device. This in and of itself may take up to three months to complete.

After the upgrade is certified by the carrier, they may run through a pre-release phase where the code is trickled out to a few select devices for “in the field” testing. If the pre-release goes well, and they typically do, then the upgrade is released to the general public.

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