Lightning-fast OEM Android updates: an OEM success or a Google failure?

Android 5.0 Lollipop, the latest iteration of Google’s mobile operating system, has been rolling out since the beginning of the month. Not everyone has gotten it yet, and some won’t get the update at all. Because of the rapid development cycle of consumer electronics these days, OEMs don’t have much incentive to update “old” devices with new versions of operating systems, it’s much more profitable just to sell you a new device with the new OS already on it.

One of the purposes of the Nexus program is so Google can showcase its latest and greatest software on a hardware reference platform of sorts. Historically, Google has also priced its products to keep pressure on OEMs such that Android-powered products are more cost-competitive than they otherwise would have been.

A primary reason people buy a Nexus is so they are “first” to receive updates to the operating system. In most cases this is true. Incremental updates and patches can be pushed directly to the device from Google itself, without having to go through OEMs and carriers (most of the time). Now, however, Google is coming under fire for a delayed Lollipop roll-out to its very own Nexus devices.

Great News

g3-spacerThis time around, some other OEMs beat Google to the punch. LG was quick to release a Lollipop update for its G3 even before the LG-built Nexus 5 got its update. Motorola released updates to its recent devices. HTC is reportedly working on a Lollipopified version of its Sense UI for its phones. Even Sony looks like it’s close to releasing Lollipop for its phones.

For owners of those devices, this is very, very good news. An upgrade to what many are calling the “best version of Android to-date” are coming quickly, and to a significant number of non-Nexus devices!

Not-So-Great News

Nexus owners started to feel frustration (and even anger) over the delayed update, and vultures started making fun of them. (First-world problems, right?)

Eventually the updates started rolling out to the Nexus 5, followed by the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7. Some are still waiting (my LTE Nexus 7 is still running KitKat, and probably will be for some time now), but the updates will come – eventually.

Nexus 4 and Nexus 5At the root of the delay was apparently a bug that was identified late-in-the-game. This bug reportedly caused “excessive battery drain” when certain WiFi conditions were encountered. Rather than release the Lollipop update with the bug in place (then release a patch for it down the road), Google opted instead to fix the bug and run the update through another round of testing before releasing it. Apparently, devices by other manufacturers were not impacted by the bug and were able to continue with their release schedules.

All in all, what do these “lightning fast” Lollipop updates from various OEMs mean? Is this a failure of the Nexus program to deliver? I don’t think so. Sure, we weren’t able to claim “#First!” and wave the flag of “you should have gotten a Nexus!” around, but the other option would have been a followup update almost immediately after release, and disappointing performance until that update was downloaded and applied. No one wants that, right?

The bigger take-away is how quickly OEMs were able to get the latest full-point release of Android out to their flagship phones. That’s truly impressive, and hopefully indicative of good things to come.

Your Turn

Those are my thoughts, and my justifications for them. What do you think? Should Google have done anything differently with the release of the Lollipop update? Do you think it was a failure of the Nexus program to deny its customers the opportunity to be “#First!”? I want to know what you think! Head down to the comments and let us know you thoughts!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.