Android Upgrades

Android Upgrade Report Card: Grading the manufacturers on Pie

Six months after Pie's release, how have Android device-makers done at getting the upgrade into users' hands? The grades are in — and they aren't exactly exceptional.

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HTC

Android Upgrade Report Card: HTC JR
  • Length of time for upgrade to reach current flagship: Still waiting (0/60 points)
  • Length of time for upgrade to reach previous-gen flagship: Still waiting (0/30 points)
  • Communication: Poor (2/10 points)

If there's any company that can come close to matching Moto's fall from grace, it's HTC. The once-admirable device-maker has been in a freefall for the past few years with upgrade performance — probably no surprise, given its ongoing financial struggles — and the Android 9 Pie upgrade marks a new low for the company responsible for Android's very first handset.

There's not a heck of a lot to say, really: HTC hasn't accomplished a single thing in these first six months since Pie's release. No rollouts, no updates, no announcements regarding its own regular phones beyond one initial vague Twitter posting about which devices would eventually be upgraded (for which the company received a couple of "minimal effort" communication points — it may not be much, but it's still more than some other players do on that front). The company's once-exemplary "Software Updates" page, meanwhile — where HTC used to post detailed information about the update status for every model and variant in its catalog — has long been abandoned.

Looking at all of this, I can't help but think back to my 2016 column: "Why HTC may be the next Motorola of Android." Sigh.

LG

Android Upgrade Report Card: LG JR
  • Length of time for upgrade to reach current flagship: Still waiting (0/60 points)
  • Length of time for upgrade to reach previous-gen flagship: Still waiting (0/30 points)
  • Communication: Poor (0/10 points)

When it comes to Android upgrades, LG is nothing if not consistent. The company has managed to accomplish exactly jack-squat in the first six months of Pie's life — no rollouts, no communication, no discernible progress or attempt to so much as even pretend it gives the tiniest hoot about what happens to its own regular phones once they're out of the box and into a human's hands.

What makes this particularly galling is the fact that LG did take the time to try to get positive publicity out of its creation of a "Software Update Center" — the industry's "first such facility aimed at providing customers worldwide with faster, timelier smartphone operating system and software updates" (!) — last April.

Um, yeah. Right.

I'll say what I've said before: If you buy a phone from LG, you're accepting the fact that you'll be waiting in the dark — likely for a very long time — to see if or when you'll ever get any future updates. You'd better make sure you're okay with that black hole before shelling out your hard-earned shekels.

Sony, Essential, and Nokia: A few quick footnotes

This report card focuses on the companies most relevant to the U.S. flagship market, as explained in the methodology section below, but I wanted to quickly call out a few other notable Android players.

Sony, which has become increasingly irrelevant in the U.S. market over time, managed to get Pie onto its current-gen Xperia XZ2 flagship in mid-October — just over two months after the software's release — and then onto its previous-gen Xperia XZ a mere matter of weeks after that. Its communication efforts were better than most, with an early announcement that included not only which devices would receive the upgrade but also roughly when those rollouts would begin and then a couple of subsequent updates to that information. All considered, if we were including it in this analysis, it'd have earned a solid 83% "B" score — enough that it would have claimed the second-place spot and outperformed everyone other than Google.

Essential, meanwhile — which hasn't sold a significant number of phones, didn't even release a phone in 2018, and may or may not ever release another Android phone — is absolutely killing it when it comes to support of its sole 2017-launched device. The company got Pie out to owners of its eponymous Essential Phone on the same day as the software's release. Essential is nowhere near relevant enough to earn a spot in this analysis, to say the least, but if it were ever able to get its act together and become a force in the U.S. mobile market, it'd sure be a force to be reckoned with in this domain.

Last but not least is Nokia — still a relative newcomer to the Android game. The company has an extremely limited presence in the U.S., with just a few budget-level phones available stateside as of now. In the global picture, though, Nokia has consistently done a solid job of keeping its phones updated with both major and minor OS releases and with monthly security patches, some two-ish years into its term as an Android manufacturer.

Interestingly, Nokia is now making all of its phones part of Android One — which means they'll all be guaranteed to receive reasonably timely ongoing upgrades as part of that agreement with Google. That puts Nokia in a very unusual position when it comes to software support within Android and certainly sets it apart from everyone else, even if it doesn't make sense to include it as a formal part of this analysis as of now.

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In detail: How these grades were calculated

This report card follows the same grading system used with last year's analysis — which features precise and clearly defined standards designed to weigh performance for both current and previous-generation flagship phones along with a company's communication efforts, all in a consistent manner.

Each manufacturer's overall grade is based on the following formula, with final scores being rounded up or down to the nearest full integer:

  • 60% of grade: Length of time for upgrade to reach current flagship phone(s)
  • 30% of grade: Length of time for upgrade to reach previous-gen flagship phone(s)
  • 10% of grade: Overall communication with customers throughout the upgrade process

Upgrade timing often varies wildly from one country or carrier to the next, so in order to create a consistent standard for scoring, I've focused this analysis on when Android 9 first reached a flagship model that's readily available in the U.S. — either a carrier-connected model or an unlocked version of the phone, if such a product is sold by the manufacturer and readily available to U.S. consumers — in a public, official, and not opt-in-beta-oriented over-the-air rollout.

(To be clear, I'm not counting being able to import an international version of a phone from eBay or from some random seller on Amazon as being "readily available to U.S. consumers." For the purposes of creating a reasonable and consistent standard for this analysis, a phone has to be sold in the U.S. in some official capacity in order to be considered a "U.S. model" of a device. I also don't include Android One devices as part of this analysis, as they (a) don't tend to be flagship-caliber devices, and (b) are part of a separate program that has contract-based requirements for upgrade delivery timing and relies on Google's Android software instead of a company's own take on the operating system. Consequently, those devices exist in a category of their own and aren't indicative of a company's upgrade behavior with its own self-controlled flagships.)

By looking at the time to Pie's first appearance (via an over-the-air rollout) on a device in the U.S., we're measuring how quickly a typical U.S. consumer could realistically get the software in a normal situation. And we're eliminating the PR-focused silliness of a manufacturer rushing to roll out a small-scale upgrade in somewhere like Lithuania just so they can put out a press release touting that they were "FIRST!" The same analysis could be done using any country as its basis, of course, and the results would vary accordingly.

All measurements start from the day Android 9 was released into the Android Open Source Project: August 6, 2018, which is when the final raw OS code became available to manufacturers. The following scale determined each manufacturer's subscores for upgrade timeliness:

  • 1-14 days to first U.S. rollout = A+ (100)
  • 15-30 days to first U.S. rollout = A (96)
  • 31-45 days to first U.S. rollout = A- (92)
  • 46-60 days to first U.S. rollout = B+ (89)
  • 61-75 days to first U.S. rollout = B (86)
  • 76-90 days to first U.S. rollout = B- (82)
  • 91-105 days to first U.S. rollout = C+ (79)
  • 106-120 days to first U.S. rollout = C (76)
  • 121-135 days to first U.S. rollout = C- (72)
  • 136-150 days to first U.S. rollout = D+ (69)
  • 151-165 days to first U.S. rollout = D (66)
  • 166-180 days to first U.S. rollout = D- (62)
  • More than 180 days to first U.S. rollout (and thus no upgrade activity within the six-month window) = F (0)

There's just one asterisk: If a manufacturer outright abandons any U.S.-relevant models of a device, its score defaults to zero for that specific category. Within that specific category (be it current or previous-gen flagship), such behavior is an indication that the manufacturer in question could not be trusted to honor its commitment and provide an upgrade. This adjustment allows the score to better reflect that reality. (No such adjustments were made this year, though there was one instance where it happened in the past.)

Last but not least, this analysis focuses on manufacturers selling flagship phones that are relevant and in some way significant to the U.S. market. That's why Sony is no longer part of the primary analysis — and why BlackBerry, which I included for a couple of years as it tried to recapture some of the American enterprise market, is also no longer included.

Most of the other players are either still relatively insignificant in the U.S. market or have focused their efforts more on the budget realm in the States so far — and thus don't make sense, at least as of now, to include in this specific-sample-oriented and flagship-focused report.

[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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