Google, it's now time to promise five years of Pixel updates

Google Pixel 4a
Google Pixel 4a (Image credit: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

If you buy a Pixel phone you're guaranteed three full years of software support — that means updates, When Google announced this, it was unheard of for any Android phone to see that level of longevity and at a time when some phone makers never provided any updates Google used this to stand out from its competition.

We thought three years was great because nobody else was offering it.

In hindsight, we shouldn't have looked at it this way. Google controls Android and its update cycle, and in this regard, it has no competition. Google offering only three years of updates for a phone whose software was written by another part of the company is actually ridiculous.

Spare me the excuses about why Google can't do anything more than it is doing today; I've heard them all. Things like passing the blame to Qualcomm aren't going to change my mind. Those same arguments were used when Samsung only sent out one platform update and now Samsung also promises three years of support. So does OnePlus (opens in new tab) to an extent. So does Microsoft with its very first Android phone.

You could say that Google offering three years of updates is what prodded other Android phone makers to do the same, and you would be right. That means if Google can update a Pixel phone for five years then other phone makers would then follow suit. That's not a sure bet, though, because updating a phone costs money and companies in the business of selling phones don't like to spend money if they don't have to.

No company likes to waste money. But Google is good at it.

This is another area where Google can afford to think differently. Google doesn't make any money from making and selling Pixel phones and there is a good chance it never will. Check out the particulars the next time Google releases a quarterly financial statement— hardware is not Google's cash machine, Ads, software, and services are. And Android is not some goodwill gesture from Google; it's a vehicle for Google's ads, software, and services so spending more money to make Android better is in Google's best interests.

Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

We also can't forget the elephant in the room: Apple. The fruit company offers 5 years of updates for every single one of its phones. All of them. An iPhone 6S will be updated to iOS 14. Apple might make a few dollars from App Store purchases by people who can't or won't upgrade to a newer iPhone than the 6S, but I'll wager Apple loses money when it takes the time to engineer and test an iOS update for an old iPhone.

Even the first iPhone SE will see iOS 14.

Apple does it as a selling point for new iPhones. If you buy an iPhone 12 when it comes out you know you'll see at least five years of new features and those "enhancements" software makers like to crow about. This helps people justify spending more than they would normally because they know they will get more mileage from their $1,000 purchase. In short, it makes customers happy.

I don't want to use an iPhone just so I can get better software support. I've nothing against them, but an iPhone just isn't my cup of tea. But before I'll spend $1,000 or more on an Android phone, I'd buy an iPhone because I know I can use it as long as I want and it will still be supported. I can't say the same for any Android phone, not even the ones Google itself makes.

I'm a huge Android fan but I'm not a fan of poor support.

Maybe it's easier for Apple because it makes the processor and doesn't have to depend on Qualcomm. That's reasonable, but I'd bet that paying for a longer support contract from a chip vendor is cheaper than building your own chip. And if building an in-house chip is what it actually takes to keep updating its own line of smartphones, then Google needs to step to it.

I've been an Android fan since the platform launched — I actually waited in line at a Washington, D.C. T-Mobile store to buy my G1 (yes, there was a line). I'm not saying I plan to quit the platform if Google can't give me the thing I want. I'm just saying we deserve better and now that phones are so ungodly expensive it's time for Google to show manufacturers how it is done and offer a full five years of support.

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.

  • I think it's a fine idea. Now all they have to do is build a phone that I want to buy.
  • Exactly! The Pixels phones are great camera phones but everything else is so subpar!
  • Maybe when Google builds their own chips they will offer five years of support. I'm fine with three but resale value would increase if I could sell a three or two year old phone with more support coming.
  • The problem here is battery life. NO battery (using current battery tech) will last 5 years! Apple has brick-and-mortar stores throughout the US (not sure about other countries) where you can take your iPhone to get the battery replaced in order for the phone to last 5 years. Doing this yourself with an Android phone is easy on some phones, and nearly impossible on others. Also, there are few stores available to go to to get your battery replaced same-day to make your Android phone last 5 years. So we still have a dilemma!
  • This is absolutely right and my first thought exactly. I have ZERO interest in trying to use a 3+ year old battery in a phone. Especially for pixel phones with small batteries to start with. Focusing on longer support timelines would be a gross mismanagement of priorities and resources.
  • Google offering 5 years would be a boon to consumers and allow Pixels to compete a bit better against iPhones, but wouldn't benefit any of the other Android OEM's, so if we are looking solely at Pixel vs iPhone it makes total sense, but I don't know that it follows in the larger scheme - Google would making a parts-based competitive step within the Android competition which its Android OEM partners simply could not match (niche exception for Exynos).
  • That would be nice. My original Pixel XL 128 is still performing well some 38 months after being put in service. Ordered Nov 2016, received Feb 2017. Last Google update was last Oct/Nov. Have been waiting for Google to sort out the next Pixel. Was glad to see that the 4a is coming. Ordered 2 on Aug 3rd. But my XL is still a viable phone
  • Honestly, all OEM'S should offer what 🍎 does? Five yrs of updates. I see Samsung just announced three yrs of OS updates. When paying the long dollar that's the least they could do!
  • They need to offer reasonably-priced, officially-sanctioned battery replacements as well. Without this part of the equation there is no point updating a 4-5 year old device.
  • I can't get genuine replacement batteries for my phones in my country. Thus I invariably choose to sell it after/before 2 years have elapsed.
  • Agreed! See my reply above.
  • It's not time for Google to do this, it's time for societies and the approriate public agencies to demand this unconditionally from any vendor. It should be finally regarded a basic consumer right to get proper updates for all things in the digital world. I don't even care if it's phones or central heating devices. If they have a CPU, run software and are connected then the consumer must get updates for a sufficiently long time. For many devices 5 years would even be a bare minimum. It is hight time to hold the industry accountable.
  • Strongly agree, for security updates, without which the device is not recommended for use. California has a law requiring $100+ appliances to have 7 years of repair support (not complimentary, just making the parts available).
  • Our Pixels (a 3 and a 4, purchased as soon as they were made available) have been the best phones we've ever owned. And I've owned some great ones over the years. But these two phones have convinced us to buy Pixel phones from now onward (assuming they're going to be available, of course). It would be wonderful if they were updated for 5 years. At least getting security patches for 5 years. Perhaps OS updates for the current 3 year promise, with security patches for an additional 2 years. I'd be happy with that compromise.
  • "Those same arguments were used when Samsung only sent out one platform update and now Samsung also promises three years of support." Jerry, how long ago was this? I've been with Samsung since 2012 and every flagship they've sold since has had 2 platform updates and 2 or 3 years of security updates, now they offer 4 years of security updates. The S3 from 2012 shipped with Ice Cream Sandwich and received Jelly Bean and Kit Kat updates. My Note 3 from 2013 shipped with Jelly Bean and was updated to Kit Kat and Lollipop. 2014 Note 4 shipped with Kit Kat and saw Lollipop and Marshmallow updates. Google can offer 5 years of updates and I still wouldn't touch their inferior hardware that has quality control issues and inferior software. Sure Samsung is slower to update the software version but they don't put out a bug riddled mess and have much better software with features Google will likely borrow 3 years later.
  • In fairness they should only do it if they want Android to be a serious OS.
  • How about we go the Linux and Windows route where component manufacturers supply drivers so that Android can be updated indefinitely?
  • It's already this way, no?
  • No, often Qualcomm does not want to update drivers.
  • And do you know what happens when an iPhone gets five years of updates? It runs like cr@p. The only two iPhones missing from my collection spanning from the 3GS to present are the 4 and 8, as they were used as trade-ins.
    The 3GS, 5c, and 5s all run like garbage. The 6s struggles and overheats, the 7 is still usable but janky with frequent frame drops. Now, security updates for five years or more would be great. But pushing five years of OS upgrades usually brings the hardware to its knees, and recent Pixels have midrange processors already.
  • It will be interesting to see how the X line and up does 5 years down the road since their hardware was not being pushed when they launched to begin with. 
  • For sure I will agree with this...that Major OS upgrades on a cell phone many times cause problems that the originally installed OS does not have. Personally I have had good results from major Android upgrades, but then again I rarely keep a phone long enough to receive more than one upgrade. I have read about many people wishing they could downgrade after a major upgrade due to all the problems the new OS introduced.
  • That is the exact reason I don't install updates at launch(iOS or Android).
    My essential PH-1 is still on pie cause I won't install the Q beta. Works flawless without it.
  • Absolutely true , I have same experience by my wife's various iPhone
  • Lol the processor in their a lines aren't lasting 5 years. 
  • Agreed. Imagine how slow these phones will get by then, though. Most will probably need new batteries way before then as well. Apple's phones, even the SE, have high end, fast processors that are able to last much longer.
  • It's not the processor that slows down...CPU's don't slow down...they burn out like a light bulb does...they either work or they don't. It's the SSD type storage that can only be overwritten so many times that slowly fails and can slow down the software's ability to get loaded into RAM. Ram also, like the CPU does not slow down over time but fails.
  • I have never in my lifetime had a phone with failing storage.
  • You're misunderstanding his use of "failing". Look up the term "bit rot".
  • I understand what he is stating is true, I just have not witnessed it. I believe that most slowdowns are software related rather than flash storage failure. That's just me though.
  • My phone is 2.5 years old, I abuse the battery constantly, and it's still at 90% of full charge. More typical use should put phones to three years before 80% charge is reached, plus you can still find shops to swap out batteries.
  • I think it would be good for the average user, assuming companies made battery swaps more accessible. Myself I can't see myself keeping a phone longer than there years. So there years of updates is enough for me personally
  • 5 years of updates is flat out stupid. These phones will be so slow and laggy by then.
  • Love the avatar...are you a pilot?
  • Who keeps their phones for 5 years?
  • You would be surprised my friend.
  • Great take. This needs to happen.
  • Three years is plenty for me. I get bored with any phone by then anyway. Really, what percentage of ppl hold on to a phone that long? These ain't refrigerators.
  • I agree with this. The Pixel 4a is $350, I'm ecstatic with 3 years of updates.
  • You tell 'em Jerry!! It is very ridiculous that Google isn't supporting their phones the longest and being the market leader in this area.
  • Google isn't the market leader when it comes to the Pixel Series. In fact, this site has speculated that the Pixel 4 mainline was a failure.
  • Read this maybe, rather than using the expression "passing the blame" lightly:
  • The problem is that Qualcomm has an unacknowledged monopoly and doesn't make money if people don't keep replacing phones, so Google asking them nicely to support the 720 or 768 for 5 years is going nowhere. Android maker? Don't like it? Go somewhere else...except that Qualcomm patents prevent Samsung using the Exynos in the US, and when Huawei's Kirin got too good Huawei was destroyed. Which leaves Mediatek, who have years of catching up to do.
  • Uh Samsung does 4 years of support so this sounds like BS
  • 4 years of security updates, NOT OS updates. Qualcomm won't update drivers for that long. Google is moving towards their own silicon however, which could help.
  • I'm missing Beno? has he gone now he's got his iPhone lol!
  • I don't actually miss him. Good ridence to the resident iFan
  • They can't promise 5 years of updates while releasing phones with slow, weak processors that are equal to processors from 3 years ago. Apple can promise 5 to 7 years of updates because they always use the best processors.
  • Sure they can. Android 10 can run fine on old phones (using custom ROMs), so this is a good indication that in general it's possible.
  • Apple might be doing 5 years but they are really just spreading 3 years updates over 5 years, and they break/fix a lot of stuff in the process, a reliable and trouble free 3 years is better for me personally.
  • Please don't act like Android updates don't break anything. This is just as prominent as Apple's updates breaking stuff. Neither are close to perfect. I had an update (or something) break the messaging on the OG Pixel I had 6 months in. No update ever fixed it. I had to use a 3rd party app, or restart my phone if I wanted to get messages.
  • I agree with you 100%. We are being short changed by these OEMs. I have a P30 lite and Redmi note 7 and they will only get one update, Android 10. They also need to reduce the number of devices they make, maybe they will have time to update these phones. We need that five years of software updates from Android. I will never buy an iPhone, so Android must just help us in that regard.
  • So who pays the 25 premium for the increased longevity that slows down hardware sales. All these companies do have shareholders to answer to and they'll produce the revenue needed somehow.
  • Shareholders are the problem. Nothing is about the customer, the planet, or anything other than the $.
  • I second that. It's funny to me that companies that put people first, (i.e. Costco, JetBlue, Marriott, Patagonia, etc) don't seem to have a problem making their shareholders happy as well.
  • This article is sloppy because 1) it conflates OS and security updates. OS updates at this point are marginal to most people, but security updates are crucial. OS updates that run well, for five years is sort of a luxury. Security updates aren't.
    2) Samsung already offers 4 years of update support. It's ridiculous that Google can't offer at least as much when they print money from ads.
  • Agreed. Security updates are far more important than OS updates. Though I love new features but those can be introduced in the normal security updates little by little (Samsung does it all the time with their camera).
  • I can already see the best Pixel 4a cases of 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 being written
  • ...and the best heavy duty cases, best lightweight cases, best clear cases, best wallet cases, etc.
  • Any manufacturer that promises, and delivers, five years worth of updates (if not more) would basically punch their own ticket to greater sales and market share. Heck, I'm more a mid-range kind of guy, but anyone that promised a lengthy period of time of updates I'd seriously consider their device even if it was normally out of my price range. However don't get updates to the OS confused with updates to security patches confused... Android as an OS, and IOS to be fair, has plateaued with regards to new and novel things that the latest OS could do that the most recent version(s) could not. Advancements have slowed so much that folks see no benefit in getting a new phone so soon and are keeping what they have longer. Where attention needs to be paid is to security patches. Until then you can pay attention yourself by keeping your apps updated, not running sketchy apps, not running anymore apps than you need, perhaps some antivirus (despite the arguments for/against - better safe than sorry) and maybe some security on whatever browser you're using...
  • Well they should offer 5years of updates or be willing to just allow people to unlock they bootloader when Google first brought out Android it was one of the things that put it ahead of the competition was the ability to use different roms and develop apps that would allow you get features that was not available on the stock rom (OS) that came with the device I love Android but it's starting to loose some of the reasons I came to love its past time for Google to develope it's own hardware and bring something new to the market.
  • This is a very dumb take and makes me question every article I've read by Jerry H. Google pushed the mobile industry to support their phones for 3 years (at a time when companies barely supported their phone for a full year) and you're telling them they aren't doing good enough. That's completely ridiculous and screams of entitlement. You're starting to seem like an Android Karen with your takes on various subjects. 3 years of full software support is long enough by most people's standards. Is there some massive demographic of Android users keeping their devices for more than 3 years, that are absolutely upset that they can't keep getting new software versions with ancient hardware? In the computing industry, 3 years is a very long time and hardware quickly becomes outdated. The fact that any manufacturer is offering full software updates beyond 2 years if amazing to me. Especially taking into account the Qualcomm argument you conveniently dismissed as passing the blame. Google keeps sales Pixel devices at a loss and yet they still support their hardware for 3 years. Apple has almost complete control over the hardware in their devices and software so it's easier to maintain support for there devices over several years.
  • This doesn't really affect me...The first year, I am very careful not to break a new phone...The second year I stop worrying about it...The third year I hope it breaks so I can get a new one. My Pixel 2XL is 3 years and the Nexus 6 I had before it was 3 years or so. I am never going to want to keep a phone even into the 4th year.
  • Layman's thought here, but couldn't Google be held legally accountable to customers who make their purchasing decision in part based on that commitment as a reasonable impliance that Google would support the device for the full term, and that it should be responsible for the underlying support of all components incorporated? It's easy to throw shade at a company for not doing things we might appreciate them doing, but arguing that we shouldn't pass the blame to the CPU supplier and instead hold Google accountable when in fact the CPU supplier's decision is the single greatest barricade to the task seems like flawed logic to me. As to Google, even if they develop their own chip, they're unlikely to push a 5 year window. To do so would be to alienate all the other Android OEM's (minor exception for the like of Samsung Exynos devices) who wouldn't have that option, as there would be essentially 0 market shift of people moving from iOS devices to Pixel devices, specifically. As to Qualcomm, they themselves have no real incentive. They are essentially not competing with Apple, as their respective client pools are wholly mutually exclusive - Apple won't sell their CPU's outside their own line, nor are they bringing in Qualcomms in stead of their own. The only pressure Qualcomm could feel to do so would be if Mediatek becomes a greater threat (very strong potential for them to do so) and offers a longer term. Don't get me wrong - I'd love a longer support cycle. While I generally upgrade every couple of years and wouldn't benefit personally, it would be great for countless people who don't have that luxury, not to mention for the second-life viability of retired devices towards other purposes. But whether we are justified in arguing that it's the 'right thing' to do for Google to "keep up with the Jones," Google is appropriately going to give much higher consideration to their bottom line and decide based on that, factoring in the cost of any consequence on either side.
  • I wouldn't mind paying --a reasonable amount-- for an update after the 2 year mark. I have many phones that I give to my kids and parents that are 2-4 years old, and are fine phones. And to pay $10-$20 for an update every year or two would be helpful.