Android updates are coming faster than ever, but still too slowly to catch Apple

Google's Project Treble announcement
Google's Project Treble announcement (Image credit: Android Central)

Thanks to Project Treble, Android phones are getting updated faster than ever before. Android has its fair share of issues, but for most people, the biggest is how long it takes to see a software update after Google announces one.

We've all been there; you see this new software with a feature or two you really want to come to your phone, but it takes what seems like forever for it to arrive and you know Google is ready to announce another new update by the time you get it. It's a nasty circle that acts as the biggest black eye on Android as a whole.

There's good news, though: it's getting better. A lot better.

Android updates will never come as fast as iOS updates because everything is different.

Don't think this is any kind of Google flexing at Apple because there is still a huge disparity. Google tells us that Android 10 adoption was the fastest ever with 100 million phones running Android 10 just 150 days after it launched. That's great, but Apple's iOS 13 also launched in September 2019, and saw 600 million phones running it in just 30 days. Google will never have update numbers like Apple because Android and iOS are very different.

What's great about seeing 100 million users in five months is how it compares to prior versions of Android where Project Treble wasn't much of a factor. Just one generation earlier, it took roughly 210 days for Android 9 Pie to hit the 100 million user mark.

Android 10 Upgrade Chart

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

In simple terms, Project Treble was Google's way of trying to separate the Android software it creates from the other software that's required to have a working phone. Companies that build phones and companies that build the parts — like that fancy Snapdragon 865 — used inside a phone often need to have bits and pieces of software running and Google has no control over any of it. When that software needs to be bundled in it takes longer to build and send an update. If that software isn't bundled in and doesn't need to be updated, then Google's software can come to your phone faster. And now, it does.

Google gets credit for developing Project Treble, but phone makers are the companies that actually made it work.

Of course, the details are complicated, which is why phone manufacturers were given time to build compatible products. Phones that shipped with Android 8 from the factory needed to be compliant and ready for Project Treble. And companies building phones needed time to adjust — the teams that take the Android source code and turn it into something that makes a Galaxy S10 actually work can't change direction overnight. So we didn't see the immediate effects of Project Treble all at once on Android 9.

By now all Android phones ship ready for Project Treble and companies building them have had a year or so to adapt. That gives us what we see today: 150 days to reach 100 million phones running Android 10, compared to the 210 or so days it took to see 100 million phones running Android 9. Such a big jump is a clear indicator that both Google and its hardware partners are doing a lot to get updates to you faster.

Updates aren't everything, and because of the way Android is distributed they will never come instantly. This is why Google has also worked out other ways to get new features and better security to phones itself like Project Mainline and Play Services. But seeing such a huge uptick over just a year proves that whatever is happening is working.

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.

  • Apple just dominates in so many ways with their products and services.
  • Well done. Thanks.
  • No update for my Galaxy S8. Sure doesn't make we want to buy another premium Galaxy phone...Just sayin' I may buy a Pixel 4a. Else, I think I am going back to Iphone...for MANY reasons.... I just don't see the value proposition for purchasing a flagship Android phone vs a Flagship Iphone with the Iphone 11.
  • The poor updates are just one of many reasons why I'm going back to iPhone with an iPhone 11 in 4 weeks as daily driver.
  • What bothers me is knowing your Android phone, in most cases, won't get updates after 2 years. My Note 8 won't see Android 10 and beyond, but my wife's iPhone SE will probably get updates for the next 4-5 years. That's ridiculous. After nine years with Android, going back to the Samsung Droid Charge, I plan on dipping my toes in the Apple waters when the iPhone 12 comes out. I'm ready for a change of pace and timely updates.
  • My adult son recently bought an iPhone 11 and he wasn't able to text pictures to anyone with an Android phone including me. He went through 5 different people in tech support and over 4 hours on the phone until they finally escalated the problem to their top tech support person. After an hour on the phone with this person and no fix the tech asked if there was a different number he could call so he could walk my son through some additional steps. Throughout the next hour on my speaker phone and getting him to loosen up a bit I asked the tech a few questions. So what type of phone do you use? Android Have you always been an Android user? No. I was an Apple fan boy for 8 years. Why did you switch? Pause, chuckle, I'd rather not say, but I will say I have no regrets. Do you spend more time fixing issues with iphones or Android? There was a pause and a chuckle followed by, I probably spend 75 to 80% of my time with iphone problems. My guess is that his answer to my prior question had something to do with this answer. Which group is more tech savvy?
    Android, without a doubt. This person works for the largest cell provider in the US and despite his answers to my questions, my tech savvy, Apple loving son said that this was the most knowledgeable and friendly tech support person he has ever talked to and he did fix the problem.
  • Samsung and crew better get their act together and listen to people about updates. They have the power and clout to do exactly what Apple does and yes even pressuring Qualcomm. It better happen quickly..
  • Apple has way more stroke with the carriers than any in the Android world. The Android phones are loaded with carrier crap out of the box. Google can't directly updatevthe phones directly because of the huge revenue producing bloatware. Apple has clean phones thst cn be updated without carrier intervention.
  • Randy said it best: "carrier intervention" is what's hurting android. Fifty different varieties of phones each manufacture releases every 6 months doesn't help either. My Moto G7 was updated to 10 last week. Surprised as hell.
  • IOS 14 was in a lot of ways catch up to Android. Android users have enjoyed features for years, about 9 features, that Apple hasn't had. Until iOS 14, I'd argue Android 8 was superior to iOS 13. Apple has superior software support, but lags leading Android manufacturers on hardware... Something as simple as not offering micro SD expansion storage. To what degree will I suffer, stuck on Android 9 with a three year old flagship phone? The truth is nothing really... Although I agree that isn't an excuse to limit major updates to two years. To read Apple forums is to read of the whack a mole approach Apple takes to its iOS updates... Updates are rushed to market and sometimes serious, always incessant bugs are then ironed out continuously. Android updates do arrive slower, but they work much better.