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).