HTC infographic sheds light on ridiculously complex Android OS update process

By , Dec 27, 2013

HTC (infographic, Android OS updates, teaser 001)

HTC, the struggling Taiwanese handset maker and one of the early Android backers, on Thursday released an interesting infographic which details the incredibly slow, painful and complex process of developing, testing, certifying and deploying Android OS firmware updates to devices in the wild.

According to Apple, 74 percent of devices had iOS 7 installed two and a half months following its release versus 1.1 percent of devices running Android 4.4 KitKat, as per Google’s developer dashboard. Compared to the ease of applying iOS updates, the Internet giant is unable to just launch a new Android OS software update by making it live on its servers.

Instead, the anatomy of an Android firmware update resembles a no-man’s land where carriers, handset vendors and chipset makers, each with its own vested interests, often stall or even block these updates as a way of nudging customers to upgrade their hardware instead.

Often times, Android OS updates for specific devices never arrive at all and would get lost in the complex approval and certification limbo involving at least four stakeholders agreeing in order for an Android update to make it to customer devices…

HTC shared this infographic in a post on its Software Update status page to justify and detail the complex twelve-step process of releasing an Android OS update. Here’s just a tiny segment to give you a feel of the complexities involved in updating HTC devices to a new version of Android OS.

HTC (infographic, Android OS updates, teaser 002)

The entire infographic is 10,683 lines tall – the 1.7MB JPG is available here.

The whole process starts with Google releasing a so-called Platform Development Kit (PDK) with the tools for Android device makers. Android source code is not released to device makers until after an official announcement and Google swears that the rule applies to its own Motorola Mobility unit.

With dozens of Android handset vendors and chipset makers such as Qualcomm and Broadcom included in the evaluation process, approving a new Android OS version can take anywhere between weeks to months.

Every one of the companies involved can at any point pull their certification in case of a critical problem, or for any other reason. And if a chipset maker like Qualcomm certifies an Android OS firmware for newer chipsets only, devices in the wild powered by the company’s older chips won’t be able to run the new Android build.

That wouldn’t be much of a problem if customers were not left out in the cold more often than not, even though they were only halfway through with their contract.

The process gets more complex given Android devices are built and designed by three major parties: Google itself, handset makers and carriers. Yes, wireless carriers in the U.S. and elsewhere still exercise too much control by commissioning OEMs to build devices to their liking.

HTC (infographic, Android OS updates, teaser 003)

And then, finalized code must be certified, approved and agreed on by a bunch of world carriers, various regulatory bodies and – yes – Google itself.

As AppleInsider put it, “Any of these players can delay the update and force changes to be made, but Google maintains final approval – without Mountain View’s OK, the update will never see the light of day”.

Having so many parties involved increases the points of failure exponentially. As if that weren’t enough, the UI skins that Samsung, HTC and others put on top of Android – in order to differentiate from one another – further complicate and delay the testing process.

With Apple, you have a single company designing a device and its processor, writing OS and apps, sourcing parts, conceiving manufacturing processes and everything in between – all under one roof.

As a result, Apple’s process of updating an iOS device is way simpler and typically involves three steps: Apple developing and testing a firmware update —> an iOS software update goes live —> people update their devices.

That’s not saying Apple’s process doesn’t involve hardware evaluation – it does, and some gadgets get left behind as major iOS updates typically won’t support outdated devices released three or four years ago.

And though iOS software updates do cater to owners of older devices, the experience of using the latest iOS build running on an old device often leaves a bad taste in the mouth – have you tried iOS 7 on an iPhone 4, for example?

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  • Matt

    Interasting.

  • ✪ aidan harris ✪

    Wow compared to iOS that’s a ridiculous amount of steps just to push out an update. On iOS the process is probably something like this:

    1. Apple decides to come out with a new version of iOS
    2. Apple does some sort of in-house testing
    3. Apple ships the software to testing partners (possibly the same as above)
    4. Apple ships the software to developers
    5. Modifications by carrier? No because Apple does not allow this
    6. iOS is released OTA (Over The Air) and in iTunes to consumers

    • sivkai

      Actually, pure Android follows the same steps. Look at the Nexus line.

      • jp2002

        So the blog article is for impure android?

      • bring_it_on

        No its relevant to an overwhelming majority of android devices..and particularly relevant to the company that actually came out with this information (HTC).

      • bring_it_on

        The direction android takes is in google’s hands..if companies are making it hard for google to keep it up to date on all devices and customers, then perhaps google should not give those companies android..

      • ✪ aidan harris ✪

        Hint Nexus devices are made by Google so yes you are correct. The majority of Android devices however are not made by Google.

      • Rowan09

        This is where I see a conflict of interest. Microsoft didn’t to my understanding release any hardware until the Surface because it would be in competition with other vendors. How is it that Google who provides the OS backs devices and provides them with updates first and on time? I’ve said it before and Google is the big winner not the vendors for the most part. Samsung is looking or was looking at its own OS but I don’t know if they are anymore.

  • jp2002

    OS made by company A, Hardware Chips made by company B, Other additional hardware components made by company C, all the above integrated by Company D = loose coupling between different components = major dip in performance = A big waste of time,energy and money.

    • grumpyfuzz

      Who makes the A7 chip, who makes the screen, who makes the camera? Oh right, apple doesn’t make them.

      • jp2002

        Im surprised you haven’t understood that, what I meant was the way 3rd part ANDROID phones are made.

      • bring_it_on

        This is an absurd argument…Apple designs the A7 processor, and also the software..They also design other critical hardware essential to the entire UX…Who actually builds it is immaterial here, who designs it or owns it determines the end result. Apple is better able to optimize its product because it has 100% control over the design and specs of its components..from hardware to software..

      • grumpyfuzz

        How is this an absurd argument? jp2002 stated it is ‘made’ by company A, company B, etc. He never said anything about designing it. Since he said ‘made’ it also applies to apple. What you said is true though, apple does design all of those things, allowing better optimization. But in the end, if there is a Moto Nexus, it can have just the amount of optimization.

      • bring_it_on

        For a consumer or an end user, who makes the device hardly makes any difference..The only thing that matters is whether the software and hardware and designed around each other or not..In the case of the iphone, they is..The A7 processor, the Co processor, the Finger print scanner are all designed with Ios in mind and by the same people..The design goal was/is always to function harmoniusly with the software ie. ios..Thats what really matters when speaking of optimization..This argument would hold no watter if Apple paid Samsung to design and build its chips for it, or sourced samsung or quallcomm chips..Many (not all) do the exact opposite, source the processor from qualcomm, produce screans themselves (or buy from other vendors), source the software from google etc This may work at times, and may be a better strategy for that company, but it is different from what apple does…

      • grumpyfuzz

        Who mentioned the consumer? In my original comment, I was just stating that Apple does not make its own chips, screen, etc. I also would choose something with 1GB of ram if it was smoother than 2GB. Like I said, with apple designing it obviously it will be more optimized. Even the Moto X could be considered just as optimized as an iPhone 5s. On the hardware, there is 3 microphones for the feature Touchless control. To power that and to keep it always listening, it has 2 extra cores. 1 of those cores is also used for another software feature, active display. And who made those 2 extra cores, who made the software for that hardware? The same company did. Apple designing it does basically the same thing. So basically you could consider the Moto X ‘software designed around the hardware’.

      • bring_it_on

        Aren’t we talking about consumer electronics here? Or How apple (or any other OEM) makes and/or designs its phones has a greater effect on you? The success of all the companies in this market depends upon how the consumers take to their products…Nothing else matters as much !

  • Matthew Cooper

    This was always my biggest dislike with Galaxy devices. Id hear about a major update and it would take months before my device would recieve the update. Id have to root them just to get a half ass version of the new update

    • sivkai

      Agreed. But you can always overcome this by buying a pure Android handset… a.k.a the Nexus, or the even more impressive Moto X :)

      • ✪ aidan harris ✪

        What if you don’t want a so called ‘pure’ Android device? Carriers shouldn’t be allowed to meddle with phones software and as far as chipset manufacturers go they need to either open source their drivers or at least allow the phone manufacturers access to the source code failing that they should agree to support a device for X years or X iterations of Android…

      • Matthew Cooper

        I always found the Samsungs to be sexier and closer to the iPhone design. I think thats why i went with those devices. The bloatware and slow updates turned me away though

  • sivkai

    The Android update process is actually immensely straightforward. If you want a true comparison, you need to compare the iPhone with Google’s Nexus line.

    It’s unfair to criticise Android based on the incompetency of carriers and phone manufacturers that decide to shit on pure Android by including bloatware, custom skins, etc and thus lengthen the update process. This is inevitable with an open source OS like Android, if iOS was also open source, you can bet the update process will be just as f****d up

    TLDR; don’t blame Google, blame the manufacturers and carriers.

    • mehrab

      My cousins galaxy nexus did not even get 4.3 and it relased the same time as the 4s which is guranteed ios 8 and my nexus 4 got a half ass version of 4.4 kitkat
      How come?

      • Kurt

        If there are iphablets next year. iPhone 4S will not be updated to iOS 8

      • mehrab

        Okay, tim cook
        Apple does not make decisons on whether to upgrade their devices based on resolution/screen size the ipad 2 by todays devices has the worlds ugliest screen yet it has ios 7 the ipad 2 and ipad mini and iphone 4s will be rhe last devices for ios 8
        The a5 is not dead yet it will be after a year

      • felixtaf

        They will update it.. But it will be like iPhone 4 with iOS7 #Buggy Laggy POS…

      • felixtaf

        Provided, Kitkat requires only 512 MB ram to function normally (as per Google). Last time I checked, Galaxy Nexus had 1GB ram…

      • grumpyfuzz

        Maybe your cousin’s galaxy nexus didn’t get 4.3 because it is on Verizon…? The unlocked version got 4.3 the day it was released, do some research. The 4s doesn’t support airdrop, yet it is a feature of iOS 7. And with your nexus 4, just install GEL and there you go :).

      • Royce Otero

        I bet there will be a tweak in cydia for a 4s and 4 air drop ;)

      • BoardDWorld

        It is a hardware dependent feature due to low power consumption features on the currently supported devices.

      • grumpyfuzz

        Hmm, I should have researched that more. But with iOS 5, why didn’t the 4 get siri? That can’t be a hardware dependent feature.

      • mehrab

        Late reply but
        Nope not verizon
        Its unlocked
        And ik about kitkat launchers and crap
        But i want the real deal

        Either way i sold my nexus 4 and the 4s does not have airdrop bcos airdrop requires stronger wifi frequencies that the 2012-present ios devices use

      • grumpyfuzz

        I don’t know how it can be unlocked, because the unlocked galaxy nexus did get 4.3. If he was running a custom ROM, custom kernel or anything like that he won’t get the update. Also, I already have heard why airdrop won’t work. Plus, why didn’t the iPhone 4 and previous models get siri in iOS 5?

      • mehrab

        Thats an S feature
        If the iphone 4 had siri the 4s would look like a terrible update
        Nope its unlocked no kernals roms his not the geek kind so yeah he owns a htc one now but yeah when i had 4.4 on my nexus 4 he had 4.2.2/1 on hisphone then we tried to update but none were found

      • grumpyfuzz

        Its an S feature, a cheap way to make a new iPhone look cool when older I phones COULD do the same thing. And that’s weird about his galaxy nexus not getting the update. I was an owner of the gsm galaxy nexus and got the 4.3 update a day after it was announced.

      • mehrab

        Ipad 2 has a terrible screen siri would be terrible on it and the micrpphone sucks too so yeah even the mini siri looked terrible but ios 7 made it full screen so lesser pixels. The 4s has twice the cpu and 9x the gpu
        I seen jailbroken iphone 4 with siri and gosh it was laggier then idk a nexus s? Lol

      • grumpyfuzz

        And I’ve seen Google voice search work perfectly fine on a iPhone 4. You can’t forget the fact that siri was never optimized for the 4, so that could be the reason why it lags.

      • mehrab

        Oh btw i bet the new theme is too much to handle for the nexus 4? I bet htc blinkfeed/zoey was just too damn cpu intensive for the older htc flagships? I bet the newer touchwiz toggles tweaks enhancements were too much for the s3/note 2?
        The iphone 4 runs ios 7 true it lags ios 7.1 changes that 4s runs it perfect 5? Excellently 5s you know much better and 7.1 enhances speed of the os and the animations are faster

      • grumpyfuzz

        Everyone who owns a nexus 4 that installed GEL has said it has worked great. I don’t think that it is too much to handle for the nexus 4.

      • mehrab

        Why cant i get it from google?

      • grumpyfuzz

        Because it is exclusive to the Nexus 5… for now. Google said they may bring it to the Nexus 4, or even bring it to the play store.

      • mehrab

        Siri is exclusive for the iphone 4s and later get that in your head

      • grumpyfuzz

        Just like the nexus 5 has gel which is exclusive. They will open it up eventually, but unlike siri, you can easily get it. Your original comment was how your nexus 4 got half a KitKat update, I brought up ios 5.

      • JT

        Nexus 4 got/gets kitkat.

    • TeddyBearStand

      Lol

    • felixtaf

      Although I like stock android, I love the addon features the manufacturers (Samsung, LG) added to the OS. Enjoyed Touchwiz on Note 2 and enjoying Optimus UI in G Pro…

      And Yes, I bought the Note 2 with 4.1.2 and sold it after almost a year with 4.1.2. And LG is worst….

      And in the world of android phones, Nexus phones will be less than 1%.

    • Jdgg84

      FANBOY LOL

    • bring_it_on

      The problem comes from the fact that HTC and others would like to sell phones and provide the absolute best path to upgrades..not tell their customers, that ” actually the android upgrade process is immensely straightforward” and just go buy a nexus device..

  • hkgsulphate

    is HTC telling people to switch to iOS?

    • Matthew Cooper

      HTC is saying it wishes it could run iOS haha

      • Rowan09

        If Apple gave IOS to phone makers, they might make a lot more money but then they would be considered a monopoly. It took them time to open up iTunes but I don’t see IOS on HTC, etc.

      • Kash Gummaraju

        But you forget the fact that ios only stands due to heavy marketing. No sensible and tech savvy consumer would buy an iPhone. ITunes isn’t something that Apple can lure consumers into buying a mac anyways, it has so many alternatives that no one would care if it wasn’t on pcs as well. Considering that if Apple never opened iTunes up, no one would’ve bought an iProduct mainly because they wouldn’t want to spend an extra 1000 dollars on a computer just to run a software.

      • Rowan09

        They actually did release it as a download for Windows, etc. Every company markets their product and to say IOS only stands because of marketing doesn’t make much sense. When Android was released they were selling on Flash which is now irrelevant. I’m a tech person and I own and a lot of friends also own an iPhone, so this no sensible tech person thing is an opinion. I own an Android device as well and I would never say it’s for tech people over IOS and in reverse. Why are the tech people according to you not flocking to Nexus?

      • bring_it_on

        I wouldnt really bother feeding the troll..He hates apple and IOS and yet hangs around on IOS, apple dominated forum and blogs and posts his trash..If marketing ruled the world, Samsung would have had the best OS since they outspend pretty much everyone else many times over..

      • Lance Baker

        I’m sensible and tech savvy. I have an iPhone.

      • bring_it_on

        Got any other sermon for us?

      • smtp25

        What no sensible person would buy an iPhone? Or did you mean iTunes? I personally like the samsung phones for screen size but choose IOS and iPhone

  • Dani Hayes

    Another article for the flame war. Seriously, how is Christian a contributing writer for iDB?? All his articles are about Apple vs Andriod or why Apple is better than the rest. It’s pathetic. Have some type of integrity.

    • smtp25

      The hate is strong with its one, Yeees. I liked it, was Informative rather and was from HTC a google partner

      • bring_it_on

        Exactly…Google cannot turn around and force the customer to buy nexus even though other android devices are more popular..

      • grumpyfuzz

        They can, they don’t market it at all, and it is not on all 4 major U.S carriers, missing the largest one, Verizon. If they made a $650 phone, sold it on contract, advertised it, it would definitely sell a lot more.

      • bring_it_on

        We’ll that enters into the realm of speculation since what a oem can do is much different from what it is doing

      • grumpyfuzz

        That’s true, but honestly, they don’t care about the sales. If they did, they obviously would be marketing it.

      • bring_it_on

        Oh yes they do care about making sales..They are a publically traded company, and they do care about marketshare, profits and volumes. designing, selling, and marketing a phone involves many complex actions, supply chains, logistics and long lead contracts..With LG making the nexus, google cannot come out with a phone that will break LG’s own sales, so if they want something that is high end, cheap (er) and fully made by LG, its not going to be possible, for LG will not canibalize its own market for the sake of google…Thats why apple has third party vendors and a supply chain that dates back to years of investments and deals..Samsung for example will happily make parts of the iphone, but i bet if apple put all its eggs in Samsung’s basket, samsung would begin to put pressure (price) on apple so as to boost up its own galaxy sales…This is called a ROBUST SUPPLY chain…with multiple vendors who do not have a direct interest in your product (do not directly compete with it)…Apple is trying to reduce its dependency on samsung as a partner/vendor for they know that if they overrelly on samsung, samsung can in return dictate (in a way) the price of an iphone…If google wants to succesfully compete in the smart phone market with the likes of Apple, Samsung, LG, Sony, Nokia etc they’d have to get a robust supply chain going, much like apple..This takes time, money and expereince…I’m sure this is where google is headed, however unlike apple, google has a booming android segement to watch out for..A direct head-to-head with the likes of Samsung (a GIANT) and LG (another GIANT) would/could take these vendors away from ANDROID and onto other (possibly home grown OS’s) which would in return substantially reduce android’s market share…and since Android works only in a MARKETSHARE model (since google does not have a monopoly over it, like apple with IOS) it would mean a much less healthy brand overall…

        In short, the notion that google can sell a huge amount of nexus products, but choose not to, is rather absurd and overlookes the complexities, and investments that takes to become a major hadrware player in the smart phone/tab market. Google has a lot of SEARCHING to do in the future, as ANDROID becomes more mature and the rather EXCELLENT NEXUS family becomes more popular…Some strategic choices !

      • grumpyfuzz

        Google could market it if they wanted to. Who knows what would happen if it sold well, how LG would react. In your case they would give Google the finger and they would stop making the product, so it couldn’t compete with LG’s own flagship, the G2. You say LG will not cannibalize its own market for the sake of Google. Maybe that’s just LG. But what about the Nexus 7, made by Asus? Google markets it, and the Nexus 7 definitely sells well. I see people occasionally with it, never have I seen a Asus transformer pad or whatever other tablet Asus is selling. So in this case Asus has cannibalized its own market for Google it seems like. Google has came out with a tablet that has broken Asus’s own sales. And if Google is not allowed to market their phone so it doesn’t mess with LG’s market, they could just make a Moto Nexus. That will be completely Google and they could market it as much as they want. Google will probably not go in that direction though, for several reasons. And if you could, explain to me the whole Nexus 7 situation and then I would agree with you.

      • bring_it_on

        Like I said earlier, its just not about PURE MARKETING, business is never so simple..When you intend on competing all out with a particular product, you have to look at the entire process of making, delivering, servicing, and selling that product..This requires long lead contracts for volume, a diverse and secure supply base (Look at apple : Still struggle at launch times eve after so many years) that is not in conflict with your ultimate goal…A MOTO NEXUS is a perfect example of the type of thing google can do, and i am sure they’ll look to do it in the future, and come out with a breathtaking product that really sets the bar high when compared to the cutting edge android from the likes of Samsung and LG..Ultimately its about business, if Google goes ahead with it (MOTO NEXUS FLAGSHIP to compete head on with GS5 and G3′s) and do nothing about softening the upgrade path for other OEM’s running android, then i see Samsung and LG (mainly) look towards a new OS, as they would clearly be at a disadvantage compared to these devices…In many ways google is as innovative if not more compared to apple, if they do decide to get into this realm of competition (Hardware sales) they may well dominate the android market, which would then require a shift in the overall business strategy for brand android…Does Google want to go into that path? These are the strategic decisions which have to be made by google’s management..In my opinion if google decides to go down this road, they should expect a reduction in their android marketshare in the long term, for samsung will surely go its own way (as they are already developing an in house OS)..Google would also have to build up brand MOTO to a point where it can compete in retail with the likes of apple and samsung for these two brands have had humongous investments in the retail sector (Stores, contracts with other stores, international footprint etc etc)…

        Regarding hte Nexus7, its a different market and not as critical to the bottom line as the smartphone market..Perhaps this is where google can start to go alone more aggresivly…What I was trying to say was that the entire android business model, of maximizing market share for the OS by giving it to other OEM’s like Samsung and LG etc does not fair well with the strategy of having a delayed upgrade path for all other vendors, and then competing head on with their flagship products..while clearly keeping them at a disadvantage..Something would have to give in this relationship if the dynamics are fundamentally altered..

      • BozzyB

        It is not a sign of technical knowledge of him to give a valuation already in the topic. Also he does not understand or even compare the process of updates.
        And carriers check every fone they sell – also an iphone. And do not compare an update process of 1 phone to 500+

  • haridsv

    No mention of Play Services to make all this irrelevant?

  • Brakken

    I have iOS7 on iPhone 4. Tastes MUCH better than iOS6, or 5, or 4. Yet what is the Galaxy SII running… STILL? Foolishly believing old hardware will run new software effortlessly does not equate with new hardware running old software poorly!
    Until this year, Apple refusing carriers to inject their layer into the OS was written up as a bad point, unbelievably, and now the tune has changed. I’m glad Apple’s methods are finally being recognised for the advantages they’ve always had.

    Android is a shemozzle!

  • Kaul Mhd Arie Eka Putra

    This is why when google release stock android rom 4.3, and not all device can update their os as soon as google release.

    Android release kitkat, and in this case htc must evaluate that os. Is it support to htc device by check chipset compability to another company.

    Other side, maybe same with apple. But the differences is, apple made the hardware (make a prototype then send to manufacture to production) so they cut 1 step for checking hardware compability. Because apple know that chipset by itself.

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