Qualcomm's commitment: 3 years Android OS updates, 4 years security

Is this a game-changer? Or is there some catch? Would love to hear your views.

Here’s iFixit’s take

Qualcomm, despite its ambitions, does not power every notable Android smartphone. Samsung makes its own Exynos, Huawei has HiSilicon, and MediaTek powers many budget-minded devices. And while Google and Qualcomm will provide the core architecture updates needed to upgrade a phone to the next OS, the manufacturer of the phone has to cover the rest of the distance to a full upgrade

In the end, this should mean one less multi-party complication to blame for Android phones not getting updates. You may now more freely blame the manufacturers themselves for putting out a device they don’t support for any reasonable amount of time.

If I had a droid I think I’d be thinking: err, inadequate. But that’s just me with experience of iPhone.

For me iPhone life seems to be limited by physical damage and then Apple updates.

IME (or at least in the experience of my younger son) phone quality is the biggest inhibitor for droid long-term life of at least Samsung which is afaik a premium brand (the price is certainly premium) but seem to persistently fail/require replacement. Display glitches. Camera glitches. So far that hasn’t stopped him replacing with the newest Samsung, but as I’m stopping funding these that may change. Or if he gets a well-paid job then maybe not. But my point is if quality weren’t an issue then updates would be, and 3-4 years would be shorter than the life of the hardware.

But more optimistically it seems to me that the incremental improvements are slowing, and fewer users can afford the ridiculous prices of the latest models, and economics in general must be impacting sales, so manufacturers are going to have to grit their teeth and accept their phones must live longer. We need governments to implement policies which not just encourage but enforce pressure for longer support from the manufacturers.

Qualcomm’s chip business is under pressure - a whole bunch of suppliers either deciding to make their own chips (notably Apple) or change supplier (Xiaomi). By supporting their own products for longer, Qualcomm are simply trying to gain competitive advantage, aren’t they?

Qualcomm build features into their chips that the phone software never uses, so by gradually improving their ‘drivers’ Qualcomm can ‘unlock’ more of the existing features inside the chips. What they can’t do is add new hardware to old phones, so them supporting their ‘System on a chip’ for three years guaranteed isn’t that big a deal unless they design obsolescence out - that would be exciting! Surely they should support everything they make for as long as it lasts? Design SoCs that never need replacing? A lot of the updates end up being ‘security’ updates because phones are so poorly designed that they need constant updates - Android now gets them monthly.

Had Microsoft wanted, they could have kept Windows 8 going and marketed Windows 10 only for new hardware. Then updated both 8 and 10 with new API support, so 8 and 10 are equally capable of running the latest apps (provided the hardware supports it) - apps need API support to run. As it is, Windows 10 runs fine on old hardware. The computer industry is no longer marketing based on ‘must-have’ speed, so what’s holding the phone industry back? There may never be a need for Windows 11 so why do we need Android 13?

You may recall that Google did try (and abandon) an entirely modular phone that could in theory last forever. That cudgel has been taken up to an extent by Fairphone.

Way back when the Brits designed a CPU (the Transputer) that was modular. The industry is not yet interested enough in making scalable products that are repairable. We can move away from the built-in obsolescence capitalism is so in love with by different design approaches like the Transputer. The motor industry has, with people beginning to fit electric engines in ‘classic’ chassis. Software defined radio means that new tech like 5G could run on ‘old’ hardware - no need to ‘upgrade’ your 3G phone hardware if it is done in software.

Up to us to tip the atmosphere the way climate campaigners have done…

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