Google May Publicly Shame Android OEMs Into Providing Timely OS And Security Updates

While Google’s Android is far and away the most popular smartphone operating system on the planet, the platform has a problem with fragmentation. More specifically, the number of users running the most recent version of Android is frighteningly low, which is a sobering statistic given that customers are increasingly becoming aware of the dangers of outdated security — especially given the big target painted on the back of Android users.

Apple, which controls both the hardware and the software for its smartphones, has the upper hand when it comes to keeping its user base on the latest version of iOS. As of May 9th, 84 percent of iOS users are running iOS 9 (the most recent version of iOS). On the Android side, only 7.5 percent of users are running Marshmallow (the most recently released version of Android) as of May 2nd. The most popular versions of Android are Lollipop (35.6 percent) and KitKat (32.5 percent).

"It’s not an ideal situation," said Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer last week at Google I/O. He went on to describe the slow upgrade process as "the weakest link on security on Android."

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Google's Nexus devices always receive timely updates.

Google wants to put a stop to the laggard OS updates by device manufacturers and is willing to publicly shame them to get the message across. A new report from Bloomberg says that Google has been internally tracking (and ranking) how fast Android OEMs have been delivering Android updates to customers, and is debating on whether to makes these numbers viewable by the public (Google shared the rankings with its OEM partners earlier this year). Not only would it allow for greater transparency, but it could lead to increased competition amongst the OEMs as they jockey for position to shout which is the quickest to support Google’s latest versions of Android.

But the OEMs are only part of the problem. U.S. customers also have to wait on their wireless carrier to actually deliver major Android updates in most cases. For example, Verizon Wireless didn’t upgrade the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow until early April, despite the fact that the operating system was released in the fall of 2015.

There are at least three reasons for these delays by the carriers: 1) it takes manpower and resources to deliver software updates for a large family of Android devices that a carrier might typically stock, 2) carriers must ensure that all of the bloatware they install is compatible with the latest version of Android before releasing it to the customer, and 3) carriers would rather you just buy a new phone than to keep updating an older one.

So in essence, Google is fighting a battle on two fronts; it has to not only force Android OEMs to get the ball rolling on updates, but it most also ensure that carriers have some kind of incentive as well to speed up the validation process. If you ask us, we’d say go ahead and start making the rankings public and watch the fists fly.