Normally, Android device makers commit to updating the software on their devices for at least 18 months, the same period that Google also promises to update its own Nexus devices. Some, like Samsung and HTC, take things a notch higher and promise 24 months support for their flagship devices. This, though, is just good on paper. In reality, it could mean just one major version bump over a device’s lifetime.
With such a background, it is very easy to see why some notable devices from the past like the LG G2, the Xperia Z3, the Galaxy S5 and the Nexus 5 are not going to ever get some official Android 7.0 love from the powers that be. However, one thing we often overlook is the role played by different players in the Android ecosystem. Various components of these devices (the hardware) like the RAM must be able to support the demands of a newer version of Android. This is mainly what is often cited as the reason behind Samsung abandoning the popular Galaxy S3 when it came to receiving a Kitkat update.
Another hardware component that is equally critical in the process is the system on a chip (SoC) that in this case includes the device’s processor and the accompanying graphics card. Since most Android device makers rely on SoCs from third parties i.e. vendors like Qualcomm, MediaTek and others, these third parties must commit to updating their SoC’s in order to match the demands of a new version of Android. If that doesn’t happen then it’s all for nothing. Sure, the cool nerdy kids of XDA Developers will swing into action and come up with an alternative solution but it won’t be as smooth as the device makers would want.
Geeks can live with a few bugs here and there but the devices out there are made for everyone and are used everywhere. From playing Pokemon Go on the streets to the deepest levels of enterprise environments. As such, a device maker cannot go ahead and issue an update that just makes the device unreliable or even exposes it to new security issues.
With this in mind now, it is hardly surprising that it is emerging that Qualcomm could be responsible for a number of devices being stuck on Android Marshmallow and past Android versions indefinitely since the company is no longer supporting a fan favourite from the past, the Snapdragon 800 and its successor, the Snapdragon 801 chip.
Qualcomm is apparently not releasing updates to the chips’ graphics drivers which is needed before they can support Android Nougat. Since the Snapdragon 800 and 801 were around for a while, this means that quite a number of devices are affected if at all their makers had any plans to move forward and update them anyway.
Qualcomm will not release graphics drivers for 800/801 CPUs.So HTC One M8 and other devices based on this CPU won't get official Android 7.0
— LlabTooFeR (@LlabTooFeR) August 25, 2016
This is not a new development, such news came up a few years ago when Google dropped support for the Galaxy Nexus. Despite the device having legally reached its end of support, some fingers were still pointed at Texas Instruments, the makers of its OMAP chip. In subsequent years, even third party developers have hit a cliff when it came to fully developing for the device and releasing ROMs based on recent Android versions thanks to the lack of updates on the SoC.
On the flip side, by shifting blame as we deem fit, we’re becoming apologists for what is an unacceptable outcome. This is because device makers that also make their own chips like Samsung (Exynos) and Huawei (Kirin) don’t have a stellar record when it comes to updates either and despite making their own chips in-house, they don’t go past the 2-year window when it comes to supporting devices, something that rival Apple has been able to do so well over the years.
So long Nexus 5, HTC One M8, Sony Xperia Z3, Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG G3 and others!