Phones must now launch with Android 11 or they shouldn't launch at all

OnePlus Nord
OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

I was pretty excited to see OnePlus expanding its budget offerings with the Nord line coming to the U.S. It comes at a time when people who need a phone right now might also need a cheap phone and we're seeing the company's prices rise for its premium line of phones like the OnePlus 8T. Better inexpensive phones are always a good thing.

Inexpensive phones are great. Keeping them updated makes them better.

Then my excitement faded a good bit when I found out that the Nord N10 5G and N100 would ship with Android 10 and only get one Android version update. When you ship a phone that's already a version behind, is getting on the current platform really an update?

Of course, OnePlus isn't alone here. Plenty of cheaper Android phones only get one update and the very cheapest might not get updated at all. And OnePlus is promising two years' worth of security updates which are more important than platform updates even if they aren't as glamorous. But it still rubs me wrong.

Though not as well known these days, Nokia can sell phones that are just as cheap and offer two updates along with three years of security updates. And those phones usually ship with the latest version already on board, just like OnePlus' most recent phone, the OnePlus 8T.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, even Samsung is getting good about updating its budget-minded phones with several Android versions. Samsung was the perennial laughing stock when it came to Android updates but the company has spun a full 180-degrees. Who would have thought that in 2021 we would want OnePlus to be as good as Samsung when it comes to platform updates?

Gather up every reason why a company does this and you see one thing: $.

There are a lot of reasons a company would make this decision, but chances are they all have something to do with money. Nobody is 100% sure of how agreements between phone makers and chip makers about platform updates are handled, but I am 100% sure that Qualcomm and the rest aren't doing it out of the goodness in their hearts. After that, it takes time and money to rebuild software on the new platform, then test it, then fix bugs, then start all over again. Building a full OS update for a large customer base is not easy.

But again, Nokia can do it. I don't even have to look to the Pixel 4a, one of the best budget Android phones you can buy, as a shining example of how a company can update cheap phones because Nokia can do it. And this isn't the mega-conglomerate dominating Nokia of the past — this is HMD global building and selling phones with the Nokia brand.

Pixel 4a Alex Google Launcher Assistant

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

I think the biggest reason I'm so salty about this is that I've been burned by a very similar scenario. TCL and the remnants of BlackBerry Mobile screwed every KEY2 user and that happened to be one of my favorite and easy to use phones. I know hearing a promise about future updates that's weak to begin with isn't going to turn out well. At this point, I just hope OnePlus comes through with quarterly security updates for the Nord line.

I want to love the new Nords, but I think you'd be better off with a Pixel 4a.

Every phone you buy today should get five full years of updates, both platform updates, and all relevant security patches. My mind is made up on this and nothing is going to change that. Excuses aside, Apple can update a $299 iPhone SE for five or more years, so OnePlus can do the same.

That's never going to happen. But still, Nokia can deliver multiple platform updates and three years of security updates for a $130 Nokia 2.3 (opens in new tab). OnePlus could do the same if it wanted to.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

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.

  • Former K2 owner here. I totally agree with you. I'm only using Pixel devices going forward.
  • One of the reasons I still use my Nokia 7.1. It's eol for platform updates but I'm still getting monthly security patches.
  • Spoken by someone who really doesn't care about the actual economics behind manufacturing, distributing, marketing and selling commodity budget devices on extremely thin margins. By thinking that just because Apple does something one way, everyone else is defective if they don't follow suit.
    Case in point: how about calling out Apple for charging up to $1400 for phones that don't support multiple accounts? Good grief: people like this writer simply wish that the smartphone market consisted of just Apple and Google. And since Google has long shown themselves incapable of shipping smartphones that don't have real hardware, software and design flaws or useful features that actual consumers care about. Look, Android Central and the other main Android blog - whom I won't name for obvious reasons - used to be great. But now it appears that it is obvious that it has been taken over by iPhone fans. Here is the reality: outside China, Samsung is the only OEM left that makes real money on high-margin Android devices. The rest actually LOSE MONEY on high-margin devices like the LG V60 ThingQ 5G and Motorola Edge Plus 5G and survive on selling as many low margin devices that they can, especially in America where the only devices that sell are (Samsung) premium phones on the high end and $250 or less phones on the low end that are easy to buy unlocked or get on a 2 year contract for $10 a month. (And even Samsung, the vast majority of the phones that they sell are their less expensive models). So hey, if you think that you can be the guy to come up with a model where you can sell $200 Android phones that are as good as you believe your iPhones are, go ahead. Be that guy. Start that company. Become a billionaire. (Smash Mouth's All Star playing in the background.) Otherwise, find someone else to blame. Like, I don't know, GOOGLE. Google is the one company that can survive by making cheap phones that have the iPhoney features that you love so much. First off, they are a massive company with a $1 trillion valuation. Second, like Apple and the Chinese manufacturers - but unlike Samsung, LG, Motorola, HMD Global and the rest - Google is able to monetize services on Android phones. That is the hilarious thing. When other companies try to monetize services on Android phones with their own pre-loaded apps, you say "oh, why can't this be like an iPhone!" and trash them. Never mind that third party OEMs have relied on pre-loaded applications to provide profit margins on cheap Windows PCs FOR DECADES! So you want them to sell low-margin phones without their own services, without cutting deals to preload apps and provide monthly security updates and annual updates for 3 years while somehow making enough money to stay in business? Yeah fat chance. GOOGLE is the only one capable of doing this because they are the only ones who makes money off Android smartphones by selling apps, movies, TV shows, books, cloud storage etc. on them. And gathering data from them to sell targeted ads. NO ONE ELSE IS CAPABLE OF THIS. Google is the only ones who can implement the Amazon strategy of pushing decent, regularly updated hardware at profit neutral or even loss leader margins. And if they did this, PEOPLE WOULD ACTUALLY BUY THEM. A Google-branded version of the Moto G Power - or the Nokia 2.3 would probably be the best selling smartphone in America if not the world (if properly marketed) because it would be inexpensive, functional yet get regular security and software updates. But Google doesn't do that because they prefer pretending to be Apple and competing directly against the iPhone. And all the people who like iPhones praise Google for this strategy, not because Pixels are actually GOOD (especially for what you pay for them) but because they appreciate Google's attempt to make "the next best thing" to the iPhone that they actually do like instead of devices that expose and embarrass the iPhone like the Samsung Galaxy S line - which Apple was forced to eventually copy after years of first suing over and then mocking it - and the current crop of dual screen/foldable phones (which again Apple will copy in 2021 or 2022). So if you want to bash someone over stuff like this, make it Google and not companies who would have to exit the Android device business (like HTC, Acer, Dell, HP, Philips, Kyocera, Pyle and more than a few others have and Sony practically has) if they take your criticism - excuse me advice - to heart.
  • I only read your first paragraph because tl;dr, but the money involved was actually discussed exhaustively in the piece.
  • Your argument is undercut by the other Android OEMs who seem to have figured out how to update lower end phones. As a consumer it is not my job to care how a company can afford to give me good customer service. It is my job to allocate my dollars to those who will.
  • "Nokia" can do it for a phone that only costs $130 dollars. (insert 1,200 more words or something here.)
  • The thing is, consumers don't care. Yes, this should be unacceptable. But the fact is most people don't see platform updates as a selling point. Many actually see them as a negative.
  • EXACTLY....platform updates more often than not introduce bugs! Monthly security updates less so, but even then any "new" piece of code can introduce all sorts of nasty junk. Usually, (not always) but usually the phone works great OOTB, and then it get's the latest greatest and turns into a malfunctioning piece of junk. You're better off buying a new phone with the latest greatest installed at the factory if you must have it. The differences from one version to the next for the vast majority of people is no big deal. People just want their phone to work!
  • In the US most people use their Android phones for 2 years or even less. A phone launching today with Android 10 or 11 will see them through just fine with quarterly security patches. The importance of os updates is grossly exaggerated.
  • Most people HERE use their Android phones two years or less... actually... one year or less... and six months or less. Most folks I see using Android in... the real world... exceed two years, many three... or more. Getting back on thread... Sammy is a huge culprit of using a year old Android OS and releasing it in their 'new' phones. Most call this b.s.
  • Exactly! I’ve said the same before too. We commenting here are a *miniscule* drop of mobile phone users; not a “regular” drop, just simply minutely small. If AC were to do a tally of ALL commenters on ALL articles they’d be hard-pressed to come up with 100,000, or even more generously, one-tenth of that (10,000). So, we here can shoot all the **** we like, but *real* users use their devices ‘til they don’t "go" anymore, THEN, they replace them with whatever “best deal” they can get at their carriers – for whatever device the salesperson pushes at them. I’m on my second Samsung smartphone device (not counting my first Samsung flip type and then their Nexus). I too have complained about Samsung perennially releasing devices with year-old software: My current Note10+ released in August 2019 came with Android 9. Why?! That software was already ONE YEAR OLD! And, no doubt, they must have had their hands on version 10 for a few months well, as Google would have certainly been releasing it to device makers. The one silver lining? It seems Samsung has heard and taken my complaints (LMAO!) of just two years OS updates into consideration in making their recent announcement of a new 3-year support policy, albeit for a restricted number of devices. However, unlike many blogs’ enthusiasts, I’m NOT jumping for joy with that. My CAN$1,500 high-end phone should be getting the same 5-year support as an Apple $1,500 high-end device – or even their $600 ones for that matter!
  • I can understand that getting only one update...say from 10 > 11 is basically a rip off...but there's also the consideration of the timing of the phones design to assembly. Sometimes things are just too far along to slap on the latest greatest just because it has been released. Now did the manufacturer time thing this way on purpose??? Maybe! But if not, then forcing the release to have the latest greatest can lead to all sorts of issues...especially when there are numerous Bugs in the latest version. Just go to the OnePlus forum (if you can stomach it) and look at the plethora of issues being discussed (complained about) with the "new" 8T which has Android 11 OOTB. Maybe if they stopped releasing a phone every 15 minutes, and just went with Android 10, (which is a little more stable) they would not be having so many issues. Of course it appears as if the majority of the complaints seems to be with the Indian version (maybe because it's also built in India???) but at any rate it seems that Android 11 is not quite ready for prime time!
  • I've been using a Nokia 7.1 for the last two years but, for a complicated issue with my carrier, which I won't go into now, I've now purchased the 7.2 instead of waiting for the 7.3. Out of the box it updated to 10 and will still receive 11 early next year. I'm ok with that even though it will never get 11. By the time I'm ready to purchase my next device, 12 won't be that far behind me. To be honest, I don't think there's a massive difference between 9, 10 and 11 anyway. Do love 10 gestures though.
  • Should read "never get 12".
  • If OEMs stopped trying to make their own flavor of Android it would be a lot easier. Samsung has bloated their version so badly it isn't really a surprise they were lagging in updates. Google appears to have shifted the design of Android so OEMs don't need to edit the core OS for design or GUI elements. I'd argue this is the only reason Samsung has gotten better at providing updates.