When it comes to Android operating system (OS) updates, there are a lot of hoops to jump through before Google’s update reaches your Android device. This article explains the importance of system updates, and why you may not be receiving them for your Android mobile or tablet.

The problem with Android updates

While Google makes Android, it can’t just push updates directly to you. The problems stems from Android’s greatest strength: diversity. Unlike Apple, which is the sole manufacturer of a limited number of iPhone models, there are literally thousands of different Android devices from hundreds of different manufacturers, with a vast range of hardware quality and capabilities across the board. And because each vendor wants to stand out, they make their own little tweaks and variations to the core system.

So the the complicated update process looks something like this:

  1. Google makes an update and pushes it out to the phones that it can.
  2. It sends that update to phone manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and HTC, who then make their own changes to the software, adding features to improve compatibility with their devices or differentiate themselves from their competition.
  3. Finally, If you purchased your phone through a carrier, like Verizon or Vodafone, they will also certainly make additional changes to the update.

This process can take a VERY long time, and is at the heart of Android’s update problem.

And it’s made worse by the fact that, unlike Google, most vendors have very little to gain in updating your system when compared with pushing you to buy a new smartphone. In the end, Android users must often face the harsh reality that their smartphone may not (ever) be getting the fairytale update ending they were hoping for.

Why is it important to update my Android device?

If you care about mobile security, you should be updating your Android device. Despite their Candyland names, Android operating system (OS) updates are essential to the security and overall functionality of your phone. Software systems are not perfect, and each software update addresses system flaws, while also bringing new features, improvements, and most importantly, security fixes.

Android operating system version by market share

As of February, just over 1% of Android devices are running on the latest OS, Oreo, with only some manufacturers having confirmed if and when they will make the update available. Most likely, your phone is still chowing down on Nougat, Marshmallow, or even Lollipop. And with Android updates so few and far between, you better make sure you’re keeping your phone safe with a strong antivirus, like AVG AntiVirus 2018 for Android.

How do I know if my phone needs to be updated?

Generally, your phone will alert you when a new Android OS update is available, and you will be given the option to install it. Make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi, since downloading the update can use up a lot of data (we’re always conscious of ways to reduce data usage). Also note that updates can take time, so make sure your phone battery is sufficiently charged (at least 75% to be safe) BEFORE you install, as your phone or tablet won’t charge during an update.

How to check if an update is available

You can also check for an update manually. These steps should work for the most recent versions of Android, but keep in mind there could be slight differences across devices. Regardless, you should always backup your device before updating in case something goes wrong.

  • STEP 1: Go to Settings
  • STEP 2: Scroll down to About Phone
  • STEP 3: Tap System updates > Check for update

How to check for an Android system update.

After a few moments, your phone will tell you if a new system update is available. If so, you will be prompted to “Download and install” (don’t forget the Wi-Fi connection and charged battery). About Phone also provides other useful information about your device, including its name, model number, the Android OS it’s currently running on, and sometimes the Android security patch level and security software version.

What’s being done about delayed updates

The divide between Google’s update releases and when they actually become available for your phone is a complicated problem without a straightforward solution — but the troubled waters are (slowly) on their way to being bridged.

1. Monthly security updates

In 2015, Google began releasing monthly security patches for Android that were separate from OS updates. While this was a step in the right direction in terms of keeping Android users safe without relying on an OS overhaul, manufacturers are still in control of these updates, with some performing better than others. But again, these security updates are usually only released for newer device models.

Not all manufacturers are created equal when it comes to security updates

February’s Android Security Bulletin detailed the security vulnerabilities addressed in the most recent patch dates (February 1st and 5th). Although Google refrains from going into explicit detail about each vulnerability, the most critical appears to be a weakness in Media framework that could potentially allow a hacker to take control of your device simply by getting you to open a seemingly innocent file. Patches like these are documented every month.

2. Google Pixel

The first smartphone entirely designed, sold, and maintained by Google, it’s no surprise that Pixels are the most reliable when it comes to receiving the latest Android OS update on time. The high quality camera and various size options are also pretty nice.

3. Project Treble

Perhaps Google’s boldest move yet, Project Treble was announced last year as a direct answer to complaints about Android updates. As discussed above, updates have to be compatible with device hardware, which means manufacturers have to wait for hardware vendors to change significant portions of their code to work within the Android OS framework.

How Android Treble should work

Project Treble changes this by separating the Android OS framework from vendor-specific code, making it easier and faster for manufacturers to implement updates. The downside? It will still take time for manufacturers to add their own features, and only devices bought with Android 8.0 Oreo already installed must support it. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

What can I do to stay safe without an update?

While it’s possible to install up-to-date versions of Android yourself, the methods can be quite technical, risky, and will certainly void your warranty. For most people, this is not an option.

When push comes to shove, the best thing to do is to buy a newer device. In many cases, an Android OS update may require a higher level of hardware than a particular phone has, meaning the older device can’t support the update. And with manufacturers releasing new smartphone models constantly, there simply isn’t an incentive for them to update older models that have been replaced. Just be sure to check which manufacturers have a better track record when it comes to Android updates. Regardless of how new or old your phone is, don’t forget to keep it fully protected with an antivirus, like AVG AntiVirus for Android.

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