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 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.