Google announced its first Pixel phone in 2016 and a few years before that, it partnered with other makers to release the Nexus smartphones. These phones were supposed to unleash the true power of Android, in its native form.
Every phone maker was putting a custom skin on top of Android to offer a different experience, but this didn’t necessarily translate into quality. Users often complained about lags, bugs, and stutters, even though the phones had top-notch hardware. This brought into perspective the importance of stock Android, and Google decided to fight this by announcing the Android One project.
Since inception, Android updates have been spotty for the end-user because even though Google releases it on time, OEMs take their own sweet time to push it forward. To address this, the Android One project was focused on delivering a vanilla Android experience, free of any bloatware. Adding to this, security updates are directly pushed by Google to ensure you’re always safe. A stock Android experience also means it’ll be easier for OEMs to push major feature updates because custom skins or additional features are non-existent.
Even today, Android One phones are marketed to be on the cutting edge. This is because Google shares some responsibility in pushing forward new updates. It also guarantees you’ll get security patches for at least two years. While the Pixel is a premium flagship offering, Google is able to offer similar functionality to a midrange phone like Xiaomi’s Mi A3.
All Nokia-branded phones are a part of Android One. Xiaomi is known for its MIUI but offers the users an option to go for pure Android via the A-series. But, the question still remains. Why aren’t Android One phones not receiving Android 10 update right now? Especially when OxygenOS based OnePlus 7T and MIUI based Redmi K20 Pro are shipping with it right now. The latest Android One smartphones, the Mi A3 and Nokia 7.2 aren’t. Instead, only today, the 11 month old Nokia 8.1 got the update to Android 10.
To answer this, we need to first understand how a software update is prepared and all the various parties involved in the process.
- Google announces the next iteration of Android at Google I/O developer conference in May. The Beta is opened up, and the actual package is prepared in the coming months. By September, Google releases the code and anyone can access or use it. This includes developers, phone makers, researchers, vendors component makers, and more.
- For an update, the package needs to be compatible with the hardware. Hence, chip makers like Qualcomm and Mediatek start integrating the new operating system on their chips. This is extremely important because the system is built to run on a million possible hardware combinations, and for best-in-class performance, the chipmaker should be able to completely leverage the hardware, via software. Technically, this is called the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) and it serves as a layer between the hardware and software. This is similar to “drivers” that are found on Windows machines. You need to ensure all hardware drivers are up-to-date before installing a software update.
- Similarly, the chipmaker releases a finished “driver” that can efficiently run the software. This is then further sent to phone makers like Samsung, Xiaomi, Nokia, OnePlus, and more.
- Now, the phone maker ensures all its additional features are well integrated and further send it to carriers, users, as well as internal testing teams to quash bugs and ensure compatibility across networks, in multiple regions.
- For markets outside of India, there is another roadblock called the carrier. As phones in Europe, North America and China are mostly sold via carrier contracts, the carriers also have to run their layer of testing on the software update which further delays things.
- Once all quality tests are completed, the build or update is sent out to the end-user over-the-air (OTA).
Now, the main bottleneck here is at the chip maker. In the case of Mi A3, it runs on a Snapdragon 665 chipset, an affordable option that gives maximum value in this segment. However, Qualcomm has a huge lineup of mobile processors ranging from low-power to high-tier all-rounders. It’s natural the company would want to focus first on its flagship product, the Snapdragon 855.
Heck, the Snapdragon 665 only powers this one phone — the Mi A3. The Nokia 7.2 is on even older hardware — the Snapdragon 660. The reason the Nokia 8.1 gets the update faster is because it is based on a more premium Snapdragon 710 chip which is on high volume phones like the Vivo Nex A, Oppo Reno, Oppo R17 Pro, Xiaomi Mi CC9, Oppo K3, Realme 3 Pro and Realme X, apart from the Nokia 8.1.
Hence, Qualcomm focuses on ensuring that its flagship product is at the cutting-edge. And also focusses on a newer chip that is selling in more phones. To keep it class-leading, the company also needs to make sure the latest software can run at maximum efficiency.
In Android One’s case, Qualcomm pushed out drivers for Snapdragon 855 first, so its corresponding devices (OnePlus 7T and Redmi K20 Pro) received the Android 10 update.
It’s also worth considering that top-tier processors have a higher profit margin for the company. These higher returns can be further invested to improvise the product and maintain the company’s position in the leaderboards.