Published on October 13th, 2023
In recent history, Android’s reputation for software updates hasn’t been stellar.
However, there’s been a significant shift over the last five years. In 2023, it’s become increasingly common for Android flagship devices to receive extended OS updates and security patches, with even budget phones benefitting from at least one OS upgrade.
Notably, different manufacturers have varying levels of commitment to software updates.
Google and Samsung have traditionally been frontrunners in the Android world, but they’ve never quite matched Apple’s renowned support.
Nevertheless, Google has just introduced a major change to its update policy that’s turning heads.
The competition in the mobile world is intensifying, and the question of who boasts the best software update policy is no longer straightforward.
Google Is The New King, But Not Without Some Caveats
For a while, Google Pixel was the go-to choice for those seeking extended software support on an Android device.
That was until Samsung’s Galaxy S22 stepped in and set a new standard.
However, Google isn’t one to rest on its laurels. The latest offerings from Google, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, have raised the bar by pledging an astonishing seven years of OS updates, security patches, and Android feature drops.
This level of long-term support is nothing short of remarkable, even outshining Apple’s commitment.
Before we get too carried away with excitement, there are a few important details to consider.
Firstly, Google has made it clear that this new promise doesn’t apply to their older devices.
So, if you own a Pixel Fold, Pixel 7, or anything older, you’re looking at three major OS updates and five years of security patches, which is still quite good, but not quite the full seven-year package.
Another noteworthy point is that Google hasn’t explicitly committed to providing the same seven-year support to all future Pixel models.
While it wouldn’t be surprising if high-end models like the Pixel 9 or Pixel Fold 2 receive similar treatment, it’s less certain for budget-oriented options like the Pixel 8a.
Google’s recent commitment certainly sets a high standard for the industry, and it’s an encouraging sign that they’ll continue pushing the envelope in the years to come.
Read More: Top 10 iOS App Ideas That Will Dominate 2023
Apple Is The Most Historically Consistent With Its Software Updates
Throughout the early days of Android, the issue of fragmentation has been a persistent concern, with many manufacturers failing to provide substantial support for their devices. In stark contrast, Apple has maintained a strong commitment to regular updates.
Even the earliest iPhone models received a minimum of three updates, a stark contrast to Android’s infrequent updates during that period.
As time went on, it became common for Apple to provide updates for its phones for five years or more. Notably, the iPhone 6S, which shipped with iOS 9, continued to receive updates until iOS 15.
Apple has never been explicit with its update policy.
There are no official promises, and updates are evaluated on a case-by-case basis for each phone.
In general, Apple continues to support its phones as long as there are no substantial OS changes that would negatively impact performance.
Long-term popularity also appears to influence the duration of updates.
The encouraging news is that every iPhone can expect at least five years of update support, including newer models like the iPhone 15 and more budget-friendly entries like the iPhone SE.
Samsung Continues To Have Some Of The Best Long-term Software Support
While Google may have raised the bar with its Pixel 8’s impressive update policy, Samsung remains deeply committed to keeping its vast array of Android devices up to date.
For the Galaxy S21 and newer models, Samsung offers a generous four years of OS updates, coupled with five years of vital security patches.
This pledge extends not only to their flagship phones but also to their Flip/Fold series, the Galaxy Tab S8 and newer, the Galaxy Watch 4 and newer, and even several of their budget-friendly Galaxy A series.
Considering Samsung’s extensive lineup of Android products, you might wonder about their more affordable offerings like the Galaxy M series.
While not every Samsung Android phone receives the full four-year commitment, rest assured that all of them still benefit from a minimum of three years of OS updates and four years of essential software patches.
This unwavering dedication to long-term support has significantly boosted Samsung’s popularity among Android users.
Even those with budget constraints can anticipate regular security updates and the latest OS enhancements.
What’s more, Samsung has earned a reputation for its relatively prompt delivery of new Android versions, particularly for their flagship devices, second only to Google in this regard.
Xiaomi Is Committed To Updating Its Flagships, At Least
Xiaomi recently made headlines by announcing a commendable software support plan for their Xiaomi 13T and 13T Pro models, promising users four years of OS updates and a substantial five years of security patches.
While this may sound promising, it’s essential to understand the nuances.
Xiaomi has a reputation for being a bit sluggish in rolling out updates, often lagging behind Google’s release of new OS versions by as much as six months or more.
It’s worth noting that their commitment to four years of OS updates specifically applies to their flagship phones and doesn’t extend to mid-range or budget devices.
According to Xiaomi’s stated policy, they aim to provide at least two years of security patches for all their products.
However, they haven’t made a firm commitment regarding OS updates or the timely delivery of these updates.
So, while the potential for extended support is there, the actual experience may vary, particularly for their more budget-oriented offerings.
Oneplus And Oppo Update Policy Is Better Than Many, But Still Flawed
OnePlus and OPPO, effectively operating as a single entity, share not only personnel and resources but also a similar approach to Android updates.
Recently, OPPO made a promise for its 2023 flagship devices, guaranteeing a minimum of four OS upgrades and five years of essential security patches—a policy closely resembling Samsung’s practice. This commitment also extends to OnePlus 11.
While this may appear promising in theory, it’s worth noting that both OPPO and OnePlus have faced challenges in delivering on their update promises in the past.
An example of this is the OnePlus 9, which encountered significant performance issues upon the launch of its Android 12 update.
Additionally, these companies tend to be somewhat sluggish in releasing updates.
This level of commitment doesn’t encompass their mid-range and budget-friendly devices.
However, it’s appreciable that they have clarified their stance on this matter.
For mid-range models, you can expect two years of OS updates and three years of crucial security patches, while budget phones will receive a single OS upgrade and two years of patch support.
Fairphone Sounds Great On Paper
Fairphone stands out in the smartphone world for its strong commitment to environmental sustainability, designing phones with minimal environmental impact and high repairability.
Moreover, they offer above-average long-term software support.
Fairphone’s dedication to software updates has been noteworthy for quite some time.
Even before industry giants like Samsung and Google, their Fairphone 2, released in 2015, received updates for nearly seven and a half years.
With their latest Fairphone 5, they’ve extended their promise even further, pledging five years of Android updates and a remarkable 8 years of security patches.
However, it’s important to note that while the commitment to long-term support is impressive, Fairphone doesn’t necessarily guarantee yearly OS updates or consistent patch releases.
In other words, while you can count on extended support, it may not always come with the highest level of consistency.
It’s Only Downhill From Here
It’s evident that Google, Samsung, and Apple stand out as industry leaders in prioritizing software updates.
The encouraging news is that brands like Xiaomi, OnePlus, and OPPO are making efforts to improve their update practices.
Even Motorola, which has had a less-than-stellar track record for updates since its acquisition by Lenovo, has made a noteworthy commitment by promising three years of major OS upgrades and four years of security support for the Edge Plus (2023).
The challenge lies in actual implementation and delivering on these promises.
To date, there hasn’t been substantial evidence to prove that companies like Motorola will consistently adhere to their update commitments.
Furthermore, a considerable number of manufacturers still lag behind, offering only one or two OS updates or failing to establish clear update policies altogether.
This lack of uniformity in the industry can lead to a varied user experience in terms of software support and longevity of devices.
The Situation Is Improving, But Who’s The Best?
In answer to our initial question, there isn’t a singular best option for software updates.
The ideal choice depends on your specific priorities.
If you’re solely focused on the latest flagship devices, then Google currently leads the way.
On the other hand, Apple and Samsung excel in terms of consistency.
Regardless of the Samsung or Apple phone you select, you can expect a minimum of three years of support, if not more. If timely updates are a priority for you, these three brands are our top recommendations.
The encouraging aspect of this evolving landscape is that as Android manufacturers like Google and Samsung continue to enhance their update policies, this behavior is likely to influence the wider competition positively.
Currently, it seems like a race is underway to establish the most robust update commitments, a remarkable shift from the Android landscape just half a decade ago.