There's a new report out from Bloomberg this week detailing Google's behind-the-scenes efforts to expedite Android software updates. One of the key measures it notes is a ranking by Google of partner manufacturers based on how up-to-date their devices are in terms of security patches and OS versions. The company is said to already be sharing those lists with the relevant parties, but an escalating step that's under consideration is to make those lists public — essentially shaming Android OEMs into doing more to support their devices after they are sold.
Slow or nonexistent software updates have been a chronic issue for Android since its inception, however things have been improving in a number of substantive ways in recent times. Google has decoupled many core Android elements from the OS itself, allowing updates to be delivered via the Play Store and bypassing the usually glacial carrier validation procedures. As Android has matured, differences between versions have shrunk, and having the very latest one has grown less important. And, as Bloomberg also reports, Google has been able to convince Verizon and other carriers to "shave a few weeks off" their update testing procedures.
Ultimately, though, the companies that deliver Android OS and security updates are the manufacturers themselves and, rightly or wrongly, they are also the ones most commonly blamed for failures in that provision. Google has very good reason to want to increase pressure on its hardware partners, however I'm dubious that a naughty list of poorly performing updaters will really make a big difference. There's no big Android manufacturer left that hasn't been stung by the vocal criticism of disappointed users who might have expected longer or better support for their devices.
Google's trying to incentivize Android OEMs to compete on speed and quality of updates
On the other hand, if presented in a positive light, Google's ranking could help spur some beneficial competition. DxOMark has become the go-to benchmark for camera performance, with almost every Android smartphone now chasing the best possible score, so why not have a Google benchmark for software updates? Quantifying update speed and rewarding the good citizens of the Android software world could pay off if it results in badges manufacturers can put on their boxes.
Android updates will always be a complex matter of shared responsibility. Carriers have typically been the biggest hurdle to overcome with their onerous and costly tests, but hardware makers haven't been without fault either. So Google's update rankings will obviously not be a magical fix, but they could at least nudge corporate priorities in the right direction.