New Android phones could get 4 years of OS updates

Android phones could commit to four years of software updates, if Qualcomm and Google have their way, aiming to address one of the lingering frustrations owners have – and one of the persistent criticisms from Apple. The two companies plan to "enhance and extend" Project Treble to make it easier for smartphone-makers to push out new Android OS updates for older phones.

It's a long-standing problem that has stymied even the largest Android device OEMs. While Apple has proved adept at bringing older iPhone models up to speed with the latest release of iOS, Android phones often get a few years of updates at best before the manufacturers abandon them with official updates.

Part of the challenge there, Google points out, is that while Apple makes its own software and chipsets, Android phones combine SoCs from a number of chipset-makers with customized software. The sheer variety of combinations meant that both SoC-makers and handset manufacturers would potentially need multiple versions of the same software update, just to be compatible with each of the devices in both their current range and their back catalog.

Today's Project Treble expansion aims to address that. "Going forward," Google says, "all new Qualcomm mobile platforms that take advantage of the no-retroactivity principle for SoCs will support 4 Android OS versions and 4 years of security updates. All Qualcomm customers will be able to take advantage of this stability to further lower both the costs of upgrades as well as launches and can now support their devices for longer periods of time."

In addition, Google will be reusing the same OS framework software, across multiple Qualcomm chipsets. That should have the end result of lowing the various combinations that Qualcomm has to support.

"As part of this collaboration with Google, Qualcomm Technologies will now support four Android OS versions and four years of security updates for all Snapdragon platforms utilizing the Project Treble enhancements, starting with the new Snapdragon 888 Mobile Platform," Qualcomm said today. "These initiatives are designed to enable faster Android OS upgrades with fewer resources and a predictable software lifecycle for Snapdragon based devices, which together are expected to result in more consumers with Snapdragon based devices running the latest Android OS version."

The new changes will begin as of Android 11 devices this year, and with Qualcomm chipsets from the new Snapdragon 888 onwards. Unfortunately, those people already with an Android device won't benefit from the same increase in software support; it'll be up to individual OEMs to decide just how many iterations of Android update they want to commit to.