Fixing the Android Update Problem - A Few Thoughts

Time and again, Android has been getting the heat for leaving its users in the lurch in the face of security problems, while fixing such problems only in the most recent version. But in my opinion, not only Google, but also the manufacturers, are to blaim for this situation: They are the ones who aim to lock down the devices with their Frankenstein'ed versions of Android because they think it's their selling point, or at least their way to more revenue.

The following suggestions relies purely on speculation, because I am not privy to any contracts, product design or marketing discussions on behalf of any party. But from all I know, the following approach could be used to alleviate the problem from the user's perspective:

Google should imho

  1. fix such bugs in as many versions of Android as required to achieve 75% market coverage, and
  2. adjust their contracts in a way so that manufacturers who desire early-access and support from Google, as opposed to simply warping AOSP, are required to offer these updates for all handsets that were originally shipped or are currently running with any of the fixed versions of Android, within two weeks time, lest they lose some kind of access to the program, and the right to use the Android logo. Compliance should be determined frequently enough to not water down these requirements.

This would have the following nice side effects:

  • Google gets rid of the blame for not supporting their users (see point 1).
  • The manufacturers can still avoid the huge and profit-eating work of supplying the users with new versions of Android, but are being pressed to at least not leave their users alone (see point 2).

By going this route, the manufacturers are not required to give up a part of their business relationship to Google, which would be hard to argue despite them doing it all the time towards the carriers (let's think about that battle later), while making sure that the users are safe, sort of (and relegate the general security debate about Android to a different debate, too), without making it impossible to market new devices with new versions of Android.

The current situation, which I'd liken to driving a car with broken brakes, would imho warrant compulsory recall actions on behalf the manufacturers, which they would otherwise be legally obligued to perform - at least as far as my understanding of German consumer protection laws goes. It would be somewhat interesting to see such a case being heard before a German court, and I'm far from confident that the Android brand will not be hurt while the problem festers.

I have the nagging feeling that I cannot be the first to have had these ideas, but wanted to state them nonetheless.