Why don’t all Nokia devices receive updates at the same time?

Probably one of the most frustrating things a phone owner can experience is waiting for an update that is already available for their device. That is if you care about updates, and a lot of people do. The thing with software updates is that there is a whole process, with established procedures, on how to ship a software update to an already available device. Apple and Microsoft (with Windows 10 Mobile), update their devices directly without carrier permission, while Android manufacturers do have a longer and more complicated path to keeping their devices up to date.

HMD’s CPO Juho Sarvikas shared this week on Twitter a short infographic that shows how updating Android phones works. First, Google delivers the OS to silicon partners (Qualcomm, MediaTek, etc.), then the reworked OS by silicon partners goes to device manufacturers like HMD Global, who optimizes and customizes the OS for their phones. After that, the update goes to the carriers, that have to bless the update for release, and after that the update can be delivered to users.

I believe that the above simply described process is primarily true with Android system updates. Monthly security updates do have to be approved by carriers, but if a vendor uses “pure Android”, the process is simpler because less code modification is needed. The problem of updates is much more complicated than the infographic shows, and Google is trying to solve the fragmentation issues with Android Oreo and Project Treble.

With Android 7 and earlier, Google made the Android OS Framework and sent the OS to partners to implement their modifications. The problem was (and still is) that for implementing modifications, the silicon partners (Qualcomm let’s say) and manufacturers (let’s say Samsung because of a heavy custom UI) had to change Google’s Android OS Framework and update their custom code. Changing the code of a new version of Android Framework, which means making modifications to the core or the fundament of Android, takes time. Additionally, partners with a lot of custom modifications have to update their “part” of the OS, and check that everything works perfectly. It would be much simpler if Google delivered the updated OS and the partners just updated their implementation. And that’s the goal of Project Treble.

Before Treble
After Treble

In short, Treble will separate Google’s Android Framework with vendor’s implementations by, what they call, a vendor interface. The silicon partners will just update the “vendor interface”, without the need to change the code inside Android framework. The phone partners, like Samsung or HMD Global, will then have to choose to update their part of code or to leave it as it is, because once the “vendor interface” is updated for the new version of Android, there is no need for vendors to invest their time in updating their code, Android code, and making sure that everything works together as imagined.

Project Treble will make steps 2 and 3 from the picture Juho shared above much shorter, especially for HMD Global that has minimum vendor implementations. The part where the operator must approve the device still remains, and if you own a carrier branded Nokia smartphone, don’t expect to receive the Android Oreo at the same time as someone who bought a device that’s not bound to carriers. Sometimes such delays could be a week or two as we see with security updates, but I’m afraid that with bigger updates the waiting period could be longer. Also, sometimes vendors don’t release a software update for all markets at the same time, for various reasons. Different markets could also affect when a device will get a new software update.

All in all, HMD promised that all Nokia smartphones will be updated to Android Oreo and will be getting new security updates on a monthly basis. If you don’t get an update on day one, don’t panic because eventually the update will arrive. Updating devices on Android isn’t that simple, and that’s why Android has such a huge fragmentation problem. Google is aware of that, and hopefully the situation will get better with Project Treble and with the fact that a lot of manufacturers chose to use Pure Android so they can keep their devices up to date.

You can learn more about Project Treble here (Google) or here (Android Central).

  • Stinger

    Wow. Fascinating read. I’m sitting here trying to imagine the number of people involved in updating a phone. That’s a LOT of work! HMD is doing a fantastic job.

  • EricLovesSymbian says:

    EricLovesSymbian says:

    In my humble opinion, and I am aware that I may completely ignorant on this but I feel that making all Nokia phones global (with all needed antennas and bands) and making them factory unlocked (like BLU phones that are non carrier branded) will help alleviate some of these issues.
    Also, using only one type of chipset would also help (using a Snapdragon 660 with a slower clock speed and 4 gigs of RAM for example on the next Nokia 6 and using the same Snapdragon 660 with a faster clock speed and DDR ram with 6 gigs of it for the Nokia 7)… Just a thought. That way, the hmd engineering staff can push out things with greater ease.

    Next, shock the community and release the Nokia 9 with Android 8.1 (which has several key improvements over 8.0 ) and at the same time, update all phones to 8.1 at the same time. All together, all at the same time, globally, all at once. Those who want it, say yes, those who don’t, can click no. Simple. (But have an option to update later)

    In terms of customization software appearance and user interface and experience, I feel as though Nokia can ship out basic Pure Android as they have, but have the Nokia store section on the play store that allows us to download Nokia specific themes (that are contained throughout the entire phone), Nokia specific calendar, Nokia specific calculator, Nokia specific biometric stuff, Nokia specific dialer, Nokia specific music player, and so on…

    That way, the phones will be fast and whoever wants to add Nokia branded and optimized stuff can do so at anytime!

    Boom! Done!

    And once Android 8.2 or 8.4 come out, all changes will be under the hood, while the phone still retains the same look and functionality. Same for Android 9.0

    Does this make sense to anyone here? Am I completely off on my thought process?

    • You’re right that having the exact hardware on all markets will speed things up, but that’s at the moment not possible. Apart from carriers using different frequencies, they also use different technologies for connectivity, so regardless of “carrier-bound”, they have to fine-tune every variant to make sure it’s usable on the networks in a particular market. Then, carriers have their conditions of selling your devices and they will ask special treatment. Only Apple, because it’s Apple, dictates the terms to carriers and not the other way around. Sound idea and will solve a lot of problems, but hardly happening any time soon :/.

      Yeah, and they could release the next Oreo version if Google makes it available in no time, because of project Treble. Just, it won’t be called 8.2 or 8.4, because Google likes to keep everything on the 8.1.x nomenclature (maybe I’m wrong).

      Can’t more agree about putting exclusive Nokia apps on the store, and who wants them can download them. 🙂

  • EricLovesSymbian says:

    EricLovesSymbian says:

    Also, using a universal standard on all the phones will vastly improve this matter.

    Same chipset (all Snapdragon vs. all kirin, vs all mediatek), same capacitive touch keys on the bottom bezel (albiet, shrunken down to just over 3mm thicker than the LG V30 bottom bezel), same color combos, and so on…

    Read post below and let me know if I’m completely off base…