Didja see? Samsung’s pledging a full 4 years of assist for safety updates on its Galaxy-branded Android telephones. Effectively, shiver me timbers: That positive is somethin’!
Samsung slapped the news down onto these right here internerfs of ours Monday morning, and the glowing headlines predictably adopted — with some tales going so far as to proclaim Samsung as the brand new undisputed “king of Android upgrades” or to declare that the corporate was now “beating Google at its personal sport.”
Yeaaaaaaaah. That, my buddies, is what we name an efficient press launch rollout.
Do not get me fallacious: Samsung’s newly said dedication is good news, undoubtedly, and it is hopefully a transfer that’ll solely spur extra firms within the Android universe to comply with go well with (yay!). However there’s additionally extra to it than you see on the floor (aww!) — and the scenario is not practically as black and white as some interpretations would go away you to consider (ohh…). So let’s take a minute to discover the nuances of Samsung’s shift and wrap our moist person-brains round what’s truly taking place right here, lets?
First, for context: For some time now, most Android device-makers have — not less than in principle — agreed to supply a minimal of two years of working system updates and safety patches for his or her top-tier, flagship-level telephones. Final 12 months, Google bumped that as much as a three-year assure for its personal Pixel telephones (insert suggestive eyebrow elevate right here), and Samsung quickly provided an analogous promise for a few of its Galaxy units (albeit with out the identical assurance of timeliness connected).
So now, what Samsung is doing is taking that a step additional by saying it will present the Android safety patches for an extra 12 months past that three-year interval — which, once more, is improbable. Whereas full-fledged working system upgrades completely do play a major function in areas like efficiency, privateness, and safety, the smaller safety patches alone are nonetheless a lot better than nothing (clearly, proper?!). And realizing you may obtain these for 4 years as a substitute of three — or typically even much less — is a helpful little bit of assurance for anybody who hangs onto a telephone even as soon as it is reached, erm, aged golden-ager standing.
However — nicely, we have these large buts to debate. Lets?
The primary large however with Samsung’s improve announcement
Okay, first: The query of when and how typically a Samsung Android machine will obtain these safety updates as a part of this newly formalized plan is vexingly ambiguous. Some Samsung telephones, y’see, are set to obtain safety updates month-to-month — on the similar cadence these patches are launched by Google and meant to be delivered. Others are down for under quarterly safety patch rollouts. And others but are one class decrease, beneath a decidedly imprecise “common updates” designation.
Samsung does not elaborate on what, precisely, “common updates” entail — however it appears protected to say it is one thing much less frequent than quarterly, since it is a separate class that is one notch down within the record. A “common replace” that is a step under quarterly may arrive solely twice a 12 months — or possibly even simply as soon as. It is as much as interpretation, tellingly, however assuming it is a fee that is meaningfully lower than 4 instances a 12 months looks as if an inexpensive conclusion to make, being that Samsung went out of the way in which to create that further class for it.
Now, that is nonetheless higher than nothing — proper? Absotively! That is very true in that fourth 12 months, when most Android telephones could be getting exactly bupkis. However, nicely, Samsung is not solely placing units which are in their fourth 12 months into that class.
As an example: In response to the corporate’s present device status breakdown, the top-of-the-line Galaxy Tab S4 — which launched in August of 2018 and price a cool $649 to begin (or $800, in case you acquired its least expensive accessible choice with the recommended keyboard attachment) — is already right down to “common” safety replace standing, regardless of being lower than three years previous. The identical is true for a number of midrange telephone fashions from 2018.
The enterprise-aimed Galaxy A8, in the meantime, is already within the quarterly replace class in its third 12 months of life. The identical is true for the top-tier Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+, which simply got here out this previous September. Most of Samsung’s midrange telephones are additionally listed for quarterly safety updates at greatest, irrespective of once they had been launched.
And once you’re evaluating that to Google’s personal Pixel replace dedication, the comparability is not fairly as black and white as some people round these interwebs have been making it out to be. Google at the moment sends safety updates to all of its Pixel telephones, together with the $350 “a” fashions, on a month-to-month foundation — because the updates are launched — for 3 years. And it sends full working system updates to all of these units roughly immediately, too, for that very same three-year interval.
Samsung, as we simply established, sends safety patches each single month for some of its telephones however then offers these updates solely quarterly or “usually” for others, with no specific assure of when a telephone may transfer from one state to the following — so whereas it does now proceed these updates for 4 years as a substitute of three, in some circumstances, you may find yourself with a lot much less frequent updates for a good half or even perhaps all of that point. And regardless of the corporate’s relative improvements over these past couple years, its reliability with actual operating system upgrades continues to be anything but optimal and significantly behind Google’s standard. So you win some, you lose some, in other words; any advantage offered by the new fourth-year addition is offset by those hefty and underemphasized asterisks.
And all of that, m’dear, is but only our first big but.
The second big but with Samsung’s upgrade announcement
Prepare yourself: This second big but is a juicy one, and it’s largely being forgotten amidst this week’s discussion. So here it is: Two months ago, Google and Qualcomm announced that the most recent sequence of Qualcomm chips would assist — look ahead to it — 4 years of safety updates for Android telephones. Yup. So what Samsung is doing is not truly breaking new floor however reasonably following that earlier announcement with its personal embrace of the identical idea.
Now, let’s not decrease the constructive right here: Any enchancment is an enchancment price celebrating, particularly with regards to the oft-discouraging space of Android upgrades. However Samsung utilizing this information to place itself as an industry-leading innovator is possibly only a teensy bit disingenuous. As is usually the case right here in these mossy mobile-tech waters of ours, slightly context goes a great distance in taking us past the press launch headlines and letting us determine what’s truly happening.
Zooming out extra broadly, it will be attention-grabbing to see if and the way Google evolves its personal software program assist commitments when its subsequent technology of latest Pixel telephones lands later this 12 months. The joint announcement with Qualcomm suggests Google will on the very least honor that four-year interval for safety updates, like Samsung — solely with the possible twist that all Pixel telephones would obtain the updates each single month, with none quarterly or “common” downgrades in designation or any murkiness surrounding which tier any given machine will fall into and for a way lengthy.
Past that, if Google’s first home made processors make their manner into Pixel telephones this fall, as anticipated, it is fully potential even longer assist life could become more feasible from Google’s perspective — something I’ve been hoping to see for a while and that could eventually inspire even broader progress throughout the entire Android ecosystem.
The realm of Android upgrades has been overdue for improvement for far too long now, and with any luck, what we’re seeing now is just the start — even if this week’s news in and of itself might not be quite as earth-shattering as it seems on the surface.
Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get extra sensible ideas, private suggestions, and plain-English perspective on the information that issues.