No Android Update?

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No Android Update? a reader asks…

Hi Chris, unlike you, I have an Android-powered smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S6. You’re always letting us know when the iPhone gets an update to iOS, but why don’t you tell us when there’s an update to Android?

I have a pretty simple answer, but you’re not gonna like it. Because Android-powered smartphones rarely, if ever, get updates to the operating system. I touched on this in my article: Smartphones-What’s the Diff?, so let me give you a little more detail about why this is your situation.

Android-powered smartphones come from dozens of companies who make dozens of models of smartphones. So there are thousands of different possible combinations of brand and model, all supposedly running the same operating system – Android from Google. But here’s the real problem: Google allows smartphone manufacturers and phone service carriers to modify Android to fit whatever marketing scheme they like. So you’ll see some pretty significant differences between just about any Android-powered phone from any other, unless they’re from the same manufacturer and using the same cell phone service.

apple-iphone6-vs-samsung-galaxy-s6

All that means is so when Google updates the Android operating system (which they do about as often as Apple updates iOS), that update goes out to the manufacturers and carriers, but isn’t pushed out to smartphone owners like you. Generally, the manufacturers and carriers customize and put the latest version of Android on whatever phone they’re making/selling right now, and almost never bother to update their customized version of Android for older smartphones. It’s too much work, and frankly, they’re all motivated to get you to spend money and upgrade to the latest model.
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This is so much more fragmented than the iPhone model, where you may only have 3-4 versions of iPhone in use at any one time, there’s only one manufacturer (Apple), and the carriers aren’t allowed to modify the iPhone at all before handing it over to the consumer. So Apple can push out the updates to iOS to everybody as soon as they make them.

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Apple’s been pretty good about making sure the latest updates work even on older iPhones – up to a point: your old iPhone 3 or 4 isn’t going to work well with the latest version of iOS. Since a new iPhone only comes out once a year or so, a 3-year-old iPhone is still going to be great to use with today’s iOS. But it seems like we see a new model of Android-powered smartphone every week or so, and it doesn’t take more than a month or so before your new smartphone is considered obsolete. To Google’s credit, they and some manufacturers and carriers are working on how to fix this situation, but there’s not been much headway to date.
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So what’s this mean for you? As I mentioned here, here and here, security and bug-fix updates rarely if ever get to you, and you’ll just have to live with that. You should make sure that you operate your smartphone with safety and security in mind, and avoid downloading apps from any place except the Google Play Store. Turn off that ‘auto-retrieve MMS’ feature, and don’t download images that are sent to you from SMS/MMS. Otherwise, enjoy your smartphone!

There are currently 674 reader comments on my articles, care to join in? Use the Leave a Comment form below/at the bottom of any existing comments. This is a good place to ask follow-on questions on this subject.

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