Qualcomm promises three years of Android updates for the entire SoC line-up

The Snapdragon 888, sitting on the world's largest ARM motherboard.
Enlarge / The Snapdragon 888, sitting on the world’s largest ARM motherboard.

Google and Qualcomm are teaming up to enable a longer support window for flagship Android smartphones. Qualcomm, with the help of Google, will now support its chipsets for three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates, enabling a better than Pixel tier for all future Android phones, provided your OEM is willing to participate. to work. This policy starts with the flagship Snapdragon 888, but even lower chips will be supported. Qualcomm PR tells us that “the plan is to roll this out to all Snapdragon chipsets, including lower chipsets, but with the new Snapdragon 888 platform.”

Part of the challenge of Android updates is the continuous chain of software retention that must be maintained at different companies, from the Android repository to your phone. Google and Qualcomm now say they are willing to pass the update baton to OEMs for three major updates and four years of security updates, but OEMs will have to update their Android skins and ship working builds to each of their devices. If they don’t, at least we now know who to blame.

The blog posts from Qualcomm and Google both contain the same wording, namely that they will “support four Android OS versions and four years of security updates.” Read that quote carefully and you will see two different units of measurement taking place there, which some people have misinterpreted. While there are four years of security updates, the two companies count the first release of Android in their quote of “4 Android OS versions,” so it’s three years of major Android updates, not four years. We did a double check with Qualcomm and got back “Qualcomm supports the launch version + 3 OS upgrades, for a total of 4 major Android OS versions. Snapdragon 888 supports Android 11, 12, 13 and 14.”

This is the same update plan that Pixels got and what Samsung promised, but with another year of security updates. Keep in mind that Qualcomm is also bringing this level of support to low-end devices, so while this is only a small step for flagship phones, lower-end phones can get significantly more support windows.

Treble issues

Google’s blog post goes into detail on how it has made updating easier for SoC manufacturers like Qualcomm. Project Treble’s re-architecture of Android split the operating system in two, separating the operating system from the hardware with a modular interface. This makes it easy to run the same build of Android on multiple hardware (this is called a Generic System Image or GSI). While that makes it easier if you’re an OEM building an Android skin, apparently Google had pumped up update requirements for SoC vendors.

SoC vendors are partially responsible for the implementation of the “vendor” in Project Treble – the bottom half of the OS split that contains the hardware support. While things above the Project Treble split (the software) were guaranteed backwards compatibility, the hardware support wasn’t. For each SoC, Qualcomm should maintain a vendor implementation for each permutation of software history. That means one for phones launched with Android 10, another for Android 11, and a third for devices launched with Android 10 and upgraded to Android 11.

This system did not scale properly. Today, Google is vaguely announcing changes to Project Treble that will allow Qualcomm to support new and upgrade devices with a single vendor implementation. It’s also (again, vaguely) devised some sort of plan to get Qualcomm to use the same vendor implementation for multiple SoCs, which will reduce update work even more.

Faster updates are gradually taking place

Google is also taking this time to update us on the status of the Android update situation. Android 11 sees the fastest adoption rate ever and surpasses the previous release (previously the fastest ever), at least in terms of raw users (I doubt the percentage would be much different as I doubt the total number of active Android users are in a years.) Thanks to Project Treble, the Android 10 card turned into a bad hockey stick about 100 days after launch, and we’re not quite that far with Android 11.

Of course, this still doesn’t bring Android in line with what Apple has done, which is five years of major OS updates and seven years of security updates for iPhones. However, Apple is the SoC vendor, the OS developer and the device manufacturers, so it has less logistics to work out and it doesn’t have to do with keeping profit margins every step of the way.

Any announcement of an Android update feels like a small step to improve the situation, and nothing is going to be a panacea apart from blowing up the entire system. Just about every sentence in this article could end with the caveat of “if your OEM is willing to cooperate,” and for many, that last link in the update chain is the crucial one. If your OEM doesn’t want to play ball, you know what to do, right? Vote with your wallet!