Your phone may never get Android 7.0, but does it really matter?
Android and updates seem like a mystery to many of us. If you're not familiar with the way a big open-source software distribution works, it can get a little confusing trying to sort out who gets what version and when. Reading the things you see online often make it worse, too — we're all talking about how Android 7.0 is here, and when phones will be updated, or if they will be at all. Then the obligatory comparisons to Apple's iOS or Microsoft Windows (which are both a thing that is built and distributed as a whole) start and more confusion just happens. It's nobody's fault: most of us think about Android as a thing on its own, but it's not. Since it's the time of year for a whole new version, we get to start the process all over again.
Free as in beer
Nobody "owns" Android, and that's why everything is so different. Android is, for all intents and purposes, a Linux distribution like Ubuntu. Google maintains the source code but they don't turn it into a piece of software and hand it out. They get patches and additions from a bunch of qualified folks and make sure everything works as intended, then let anyone and everyone take it to do whatever they like with it. It's important to understand what Android is, and how it gets distributed, when we think about the software on our phones.
You have two choices when it comes to operating system version updates — buy phones direct from Google, or waiting.
Two kinds of updates
Updates are important, but so is understanding how they work for Android. The important updates aren't the ones you hear about on a stage somewhere, no matter what someone else wants you to believe. The ones that get put out every month by the Android team at Google or the Knox team at Samsung or whoever is in control of releasing maintenance and security patches for the Android distribution they custom-built for your phone are the important ones. These are the patches that make sure your phone does exactly what it was promised to do when you bought it and does it securely.
Google does a pretty good job and keeping Android versions up to date. They may do a lot of other things poorly, but they are still pumping out software fixes as far back as Ice Cream Sandwich. They also make it easy to see what was patched, and how, in case you want to build it yourself on your customized version. That's where the folks who make your phone come into the picture.
Google takes these patches and puts them into the version of Android they make for their own phones. Remember, even phones like the Nexus 6P need their own version of Android built. Samsung and HTC and Huawei and everyone else is free to do the same and build a small patch for the phone in your hands. Carriers can and will try to ruin the process, but with them out of the picture it really is this simple. Once you get it, you install it and there is absolutely nothing wrong with your Lollipop phone, or even with your KitKat phone. It works as advertised, and you're generally safe from the nasty things you hear about malware unless you do something silly like trust people you shouldn't when installing software from outside of Google Play.
The other kind of update gets all the press and all the attention. They usually bring new features or change how things work, and people like me take the time to write about them. They are great updates (once they work the way they should) and they're worth talking about. But those low-key monthly updates are far more important. You don't buy a refrigerator or a golf cart because of the great things that will come next year, so you shouldn't buy a phone for the great things that come next year. The things it does this year need to still work.
Because of the way Android is distributed, Google knows that 100 different phones may be running 100 different operating systems, but they all will be fully Android compatible — running Android at the core if you want to think of it that way. That means they can all run the same apps and access the same services, and if they use Google Play they are even more compatible with Android apps and services. While Google builds a custom version for their own phones, they also focus on making apps run better and do more of the things we usually think of as system features. Android is and always has been about apps and online services. It always will be.
Enter Google Play Services. It's a horrible solution for keeping more versions of Android compatible with each other when it comes to running apps, but it's also the best solution. Google can not force any company to update a phone they built — Android is free to use, and as long as the phone met the standards required to run Google Play when it was built, it can run Google Play. Thinking Google can (or even wants to) yank permission to use their apps and store away from a manufacturer is silly. Stop thinking it. Instead, Google Play Services handles much of the behind-the-scenes stuff an app needs to run. Things like location services or security. Google can do whatever it takes to make Play Services compatible with most versions and update it independently from the operating system, and that's exactly what they do. When you see Play Services eating up your battery, that's because so many apps are using it.
Te reiterate — if your phone runs Lollipop and has the latest version of Play Services (and you would know if it doesn't because you changed it yourself) do you really need Nougat? Your phone still does all the things it was supposed to do and can run almost every app available. Most app-based security is handled by Play Services as well. Combined with the latest Security Patch for the core system itself, your phone is fine and you should be happy using it.
Is Android N important?
Yep. Android 7.0 Nougat is a major update, even if the user-facing features don't reflect it. Changes to the ways apps can run in the background, changes to the way updates are handled and changes to the overall security model are a major shift from what we have with Lollipop. Eventually, these changes will be required to run apps and use Google's services. Think of it as Android's Windows 7 moment — things look familiar, but everything you can't see has been improved.
I want Nougat. That's why I have a Nexus 6P. But I also know that any other phone on my desk that is current for its version of Android is still a fine phone and does what I need it to do. I'm fine waiting on Nougat for phones like my HTC 10 or my Galaxy S7 edge, as long as the monthly patches — the important updates — keep coming.
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Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.
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Not my cup tea however, boring as hell. I change icon packs and launchers about every other week because I get bored with same old same old. Just me.
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85 Challenger Road
Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660, and that's all. Lol
If you want the latest updates ASAP, you need to buy a Nexus/Google phone.
No one got a free ride.
I used to have iPhone4, 5s, iPad3, and tore down Android like some people still persistently do now; a criticism based on old crappy Android they experienced, that no longer a case now. I'm so over iOS.. iOS (personally, not an option) aside, however, there has to be something gives google and OEMs a "business incentive" to update old phone, what could it be...
OG Droid, Eclair updated to Froyo.
Galaxy Nexus, Ice Cream Sandwich updated to Jelly Bean.
Nexus 6, Lollipop updated to Marshmallow, and soon to Nougat.
Each one worked exactly as it should have, on each version it was on. The Droid could have run Gingerbread, and the Gnex could have run Kit Kat, but Verizon said no. Guess what? They worked, just fine, as designed, until I upgraded, and if I fire them up, they work just fine today. Sure, I wanted the shiny newest Android, but the one I had worked just fine. That's what I bought, and that's exactly what I got. I just got smarter about buying phones from my stupid Ahole carrier, and now my carrier unlocked phone is no longer geld hostage by the rotten dummyheads at Big Red. Now I get the best of both worlds. YMMV. Good luck!
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I like android OS, but lack of security and OS updates pissed me off enough to go back to iPhone.
Nexus devices are generally pure sh** devices. the 6P is no exception. bad, slow cameras, ugly designs, cheapass build materials.
To get a good high quality device like LG V10/20, Samsung S7 / Note 7 you have to spend $800 and then you don't get updates for months and months.
And, that $800 phone will likely only see ONE major OS update over a 3 year period. 18 months support and done with it.
I spend $800 on an iPhone and get software and security updates immediately and support for 5+ years.
Both operating systems will do everything I would ever want a phone to. If dumbass apple would add native app support, customization options, and REAL widgets, they'd like win about 20% of their market share back..
the problem is .2% of 80 million is a lot. if motorola or Nexus, or LG, or hauwei, or asus, etc. had the same issue, .2% of its customers would be like 8 people. and lol at the insecure.... ok.... closed OS vs open OS... hmm which one has anti virus pre installed?
http://www.androidpolice.com/android_aosp_changelogs/android-5.1.1_r37-t... How do I tell if this is still being patched, or if it's on the latest security update? Do I have to go through the fix list and compare it to the latest security updates? Is there a separate changelog of security updates? This is anything but easy. ..."Once you get it, you install it and there is absolutely nothing wrong with your Lollipop phone, or even with your KitKat phone. It works as advertised, and you're generally safe from the nasty things you hear about malware unless you do something silly like trust people you shouldn't when installing software from outside of Google Play." If there even anything to get? I can't determine clearly whether Lollipop and Kitkat get these security updates at all. Or are you assuming phone manufacturers are taking the fixes and backporting those fixes themselves to Android 5.1.1 and older? Finally, you wrote Monthly security patches are the most important updates you'll never get in February: http://www.androidcentral.com/monthly-security-patches-are-most-importan... and now you're implying, that "Oh well, it's fine, because your old devices are getting security updates," except that *they're not.* Even Google is dropping security updates for the Nexus 5 (on Marshmallow) in about a month. So again, your contention is that Android 7 doesn't matter because you can get security updates for older versions of Android, but that's not even true of Nexus devices, let alone anything else, and it completely contradicts what you said six months ago. Now it's entirely likely that I'm the idiot here, and something has changed re:Android security that I don't know about. This article doesn't make that change clear enough for me to understand, so please, clarify it.