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From the Editor's Desk: Imagining Android 17 on the Pixel 6

Android 12 Material You Wallpaper
Android 12 Material You Wallpaper (Image credit: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

The launch of the third Android 12 beta this week gives us a look at an increasingly polished and largely feature-complete version of Google's next OS. On phones like the Pixel 5, it's a marked improvement upon earlier betas and represents the biggest visual overhaul for stock Android in more than five years.

Back in 2016, the current Google flagship was the Huawei-built Nexus 6P, and the original Google Pixel — still then referred to as a hypothetical "HTC Nexus" — was just a rumor. In the dying days of the Nexus program, Android looked a lot different. Next to the new-fangled Material You design language, early Material Design in Android Lollipop and Marshmallow look quaint.

Nexus 6P

Source: Phil Nickinson / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Phil Nickinson / Android Central)

Five years is a long time in tech, especially mobile tech.

Five years is a long time in tech, and particularly mobile tech. This is why the prospect of Google supporting its upcoming Google Pixel 6 handsets for five years after launch is a very big deal indeed. If the latest reports are accurate, the Pixel phones it's launching in just a couple of months will still be running an up-to-date Android platform version in early 2027. The comparison is for the original Pixel, launched in 2016, to be getting its final update to Android 12 later this year.

It's true that some brands, notably Samsung with its four-year promise, have been pushing forwards with longer support lifespans for their flagship phones. Even OnePlus, which has recently earned itself a lackluster reputation for updating anything besides its current-year flagships, is upping its game. But the Android ecosystem as a whole still doesn't come close to matching the longevity of the iPhone, which is where the competition offered by Google could force everyone to do better in 2022 and beyond. While it's true that old iPhones might not get all the features of newer iOS versions, and that directly comparing the Android and iPhone update models isn't completely fair, there's no question that five years of OS updates is a significant stride in the right direction.

Google Pixel XL

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

Could Google soon become the most vertically integrated Android phone maker?

Over in iPhone land, the oldest device supported by the upcoming iOS 15 is 2015's iPhone 6s. Just a few years ago, the Google Pixel 2 series launched with the promise of just two years of platform updates, a figure which was seen as pretty generous at the time.

Given conspicuous moves towards three and four-year support cycles for some of the best Android phones of the moment, this is clearly something Google's pushing for throughout the ecosystem as a whole. As such, it makes sense for the firm to lead by example while also exerting competitive pressure with its own products.

If Google really does plan to support the Pixel 6 for five years, it'll be vertical integration which helps it pull this off. (Put simply, using key components of its own design in its products instead of off-the-shelf parts.) The Pixel 6's custom-made "Whitechapel' processor, a.k.a. GS101, makes Google the silicon vendor and lets it set the terms of its software support directly, without having to rely on the whims of Qualcomm as it has in the past. In 2021, no other Android phone maker really has this level of freedom.

In fact, with Huawei largely out of the picture and Samsung still utilizing Qualcomm processors in the U.S. and China, Google might soon become the most vertically integrated Android manufacturer. Perhaps Pixel phones will never offer the raw horsepower of an iPhone or even a Snapdragon 800-series flagship, but the extra agility it affords to Google shouldn't be underestimated.

The Pixel 6 series looks set to launch later this year alongside a major redesign for Android — the third the platform has seen, after Holo in Android 4 and Material Design in Android 5. And if the latest leaks are to be believed, it might just see the next one, perhaps in Android 15 in another half-decade's time.

Alex Dobie
Alex Dobie

Alex is global Executive Editor for Android Central, and is usually found in the UK. He has been blogging since before it was called that, and currently most of his time is spent leading video for AC, which involves pointing a camera at phones and speaking words at a microphone. He would just love to hear your thoughts at alex@androidcentral.com, or on the social things at @alexdobie.

39 Comments
  • This was a very good read, if this 5 years of updates turns out to be true, then Pixel phones will truly be the iPhone of Android in software support and vertical integration because Google will be controling both the software and hardware like Apple does and Pixel phone are already the most optimised and polished software experience on Android. Which makes sense as Google owns and makes Android. Now if Google can improve their marketing and availability then every other Android OEM and I include Samsung, should be seriously worried if Google ups it's game.
  • I don't think Samsung's gonna worry about much in the realm of smartphones.
  • Yes, they can, and do, control the software AND WITH SAMSUNG MAKING THE CHIP GOOGLE CAN ALLOW FOR LONGER UPDATES. However, Google DOES NOT MAKE THE PHONE; my 4Xl and the 5 is made by Foxconn, and good chance the 6 will be too. As for five years of updates....that will also rely on the phone lasting five years. Let's face it; if the phone stops working after the warranty period (about one year) majority will just toss it and get a new model. But to be fair, most well made phones will last easily two or three years; from what I have read.
  • Apple doesn't make their iPhones either, foxconn does as and Google will have the same vertical integration as Apple enjoys as Google produce the Android software that Samsung and every Tom, Dick and Harry use to create their software skins that run on top of Android.
  • You do know Pixels are also skinned Android, right?
  • I don't consider the Pixel a skinned version of Android, I consider it stock Android as it has no OEM duplicate apps or other OEM bloatware. The Pixel is Android as it should be imo. AKA as Google intended.
  • You do you, man.
  • That's not what you were saying just 8 months ago.
  • My previous comments are coming back to bite me on the a** LOL. But I stand by my recent comments about the Pixel.
  • And will do for another 3 or 4 months lol.
  • If you think Google is going to have vertical integration even close to half as good as Apple has anytime even remotely soon, you're seriously kidding yourself.
  • Of course Google can have the same vertical integration as Apple, Google writes the software and will now make the hardware, so Pixels will be the most optimised, for me it's not about popularity for me with a Pixel as it is for you. It's about what works for me and I've realized that Pixels work for me more than any other Android phone or phone in general, including my iPhone which I mainly use for Netflix and watching Love Island on the ITV Hub.
  • They *may* be able to get closer to what Apple has achieved with just the iPhone in the next few years, but when you look at how vertically integrated apple's entire product range is, Google is so far behind. What really shows you have no idea what I care about is that you think I care about what's popular lol.
  • I recognize you from way back so I think I'll ask you...is beno like, the new Richard yarrel except Google edition?
  • He's the Richard Yarrel of Google right now, the Richard Yarrel of Samsung 3-4 months from now, the Richard Yarrel of Apple 3-4 months after that, and the cycle repeats for all eternity... flip-flop flip-flop flip-flop flip-flop tis the sound of Beno's drum
  • Exactly as Crafty says, he's like a cyclical Richard Yarrel, a "Fickle Rick" if you will.
  • They can last even longer, I recently upgraded from my moto g 2015, I had it for more than 5 years and it still works very well, if something were to happen to my new phone, the Moto g 2015 would still be fully operational.
  • So what you're saying is that you've never kept a phone for more than 2 years?
  • We are saying we are buying r years old iPhones like iPhone 8 is.
    Can you understand this
  • NEVER - what about Android NETWORK BRANDING MESS !?!? Those tons of bloatware
  • Samsung have nothing to worry about here, I know nobody who owns or has owned any pixel! I loved the Nexus series but the move 'to the pixel' series with the stupid flagship price pushed me away to Samsung and even though they are far from perfect lately in some of their decisions ie SD cards, etc they are the only genuine android OEM that competes with Apple in phones, tablets, smartwatches I hope this move if it's true pushes Samsung to match it, saying that in 5 years your phone will be trash, and you'll need to have had a battery replacement somewhere along the line. With the current Samsung/Google partnership in smartwatches etc id love to see another Google Edition Samsung phone (I know it's never gonna happen),😂
  • Only person I know who owns a pixel is my mum. She owns a 4a, because I bought it for her lol.
  • If you would love her you would buy her iPhone ;)
  • Here's where I tell you to go fork yourself.
  • I own one, my wife does, two of my friends do, my friends wife
  • Samsung already supports its enterprise devices with 5 years of support. It won't be anything for Samsung to match this on the Consumer side of things. Shoot my MIL's Samsung S7 Edge received a security patch in September of 20. That was into the 5th year. Also comparing Apple to Android is really kind of silly. And Apple has been buggy as heck on my daughters iPhone 12 with tons of fixes and updates since receipt in December.
  • Of iPhone 12 is buggy then Android is just one big bug
  • Unless you use a clean version of Android like the Pixel, then you wknt get nearly as much bugs as you would with a bloated and heavily modified version of Android.
  • Lol pixel users are Google's beta testers.
  • That so called "support" is just security updates with the OS version being outdated. This is why Apple will always be the preferred choice over Samsung in business and enterprise and Google will join Apple if this rumour of 5 years of software updates turns out to be true.
  • Apps can all still run, and it gets security updates. That IS support. Not sure what's so big about getting the next Android version anyway. I only use it to launch apps. I honestly wish they'd stop changing so much (the menu button, menu location, power menu, etc etc) while never improving other things (like bringing buttons and such to the bottom for Chrome, or fixing the share menu, etc. etc.)
  • Android OS updates are important because they bring new features and performance improvements so I'll always value both Security and Android OS updates.
  • You are welcome to. You as an individual are also not who they are talking about. I'm sure corporations buying these devices in bulk care very little for additional new OS features, but love 5 years of security updates.
  • Your fanboy is showing. The OS is irrelevant when Samsung natively bakes the features into their version of android (and Google adds 2-3 versions later). 
  • Not an Apple fanboy at all, just stating facts, Samsung has lost out to Apple in enterprise and business, they have spoken and they prefer Apple to Samsung. That's the harsh reality and it's all well and good Samsung bringing features to their version of Android 2 or 3 years before Google does but nobody but Samsung fantastics cares about "extra features" and I barely use Bixby and prefer Google Assistant.
  • "five years is a long time in tech, specially on mobile" Yeah no kidding, I left for 6 years and now I feel completely lost.
  • I don't want to imagine how many pointless UI changes will have happened by then, but I'm pretty sure if they don't stop with that I'll migrate to Microsoft's/Samsung's services I think. Plays better with the computer anyway.
  • Don't like Microsoft or Samsung services and prefer Google's and will be sticking with Google's phones as well as services because they work for me and I like the UI changes that Google makes with every new Android update. To each their own.
  • Lol you're the only person alive who loves Google constantly and needlessly changing how everything works. But I'm happy that it makes you happy.