If on September 20, 2013, you walked into an Apple Store and purchased a brand-new iPhone 5S, and have kept using it ever since, later this year you will be able to upgrade the software to iOS 12. The iPhone 5S launched with iOS 7 that year, has since been discontinued, and yet will still receive the latest version of the Apple operating system. That’s five years later.
The iPhone 5S was up against the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013. A new one came with Android 4.2 installed, and was subsequently updated to Android 5.0 Lollipop. Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which launched in 2016 never officially arrived, and the chances of 2018’s Android P software being released for it are absolutely zero.
That’s not really good enough, and it’s representative of the gulf between the way Apple and Android manufacturers handle vital software updates.
Apple’s WWDC 2018 announcement that iOS 12 would be available for devices launched as far back as 2013 is proof positive that if you want continued, timely software updates for your phone, buy an iPhone. And the absolute worst thing you can do is buy an Android phone.
Apple’s dedication to providing software updates needs to be applauded. On stage at WWDC 2018, Tim Cook said for Apple, the customer is at the center of everything. That may sound trite, but it’s hard to argue with this statement when talking about software updates. The number of people who still own and use an iPhone 5S will be far lower than those using an iPhone 8, iPhone 7, or even an iPhone 6 — yet Apple hasn’t abandoned them, even though they really couldn’t be blamed for doing so.
Android manufacturers’ lethargy when it comes to major version software updates is well-documented. So well documented, in fact, that Google itself has live, up-to-date information on how pitiful adoption of its latest software is. Android 8.0 and Android 8.1, the most recent fully available versions of Android, are installed on 5.7 percent of all phones accessing the Google Play Store, which is where Google gets its data.
Apple was good enough to round this number up to six percent when it compared the prevalence of Oreo to iOS 11. Not that it really mattered, because iOS 11 is installed on 81 percent of iOS devices. It’s almost pointless going into much more detail about the hows and whys, because this giant difference is woefully unacceptable almost regardless of any excuse a manufacturer can come up with about it.
New software updates are crucial to prolonging the lifetime of your phone. If you are still using a 2013 Galaxy S4 now, in June 2018, then it will likely be exposed to various security vulnerabilities that were fixed in later versions of Android, it may not run the latest versions of apps available in the Play Store, and be completely lacking any of the new features and design revamp found in Android installed on a Google Pixel 2 phone, for example.
If you have an iPhone 5S, then it has the same level of software security protection as an iPhone X. Outside of any hardware limitations, it’ll have all the same iOS features, and run almost all apps that can be downloaded from the App Store. If the phone has the right hardware, the features will be available for you to use. Neither the 5S or the S4 will provide the best phone experience you can have in 2018; but only one will give an interface and software experience that’s comparable to a phone actually released this year, and that’s a huge deal.
We spend a lot of money on these phones, and we deserve them to continue working at an optimum level on the software side for years afterwards. At the moment, only Apple really provides that. Yes, you can go and buy a Pixel phone from Google and get the same treatment, but the vast majority of phone buyers will get a phone from Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, Huawei, or other Android manufacturer.
It’s time consuming, expensive, and difficult for these companies to produce updates for its old phones; but for us, the people who spend hundreds of dollars on a phone, this doesn’t really matter. Money talks, and we should put it in the hands of those that continue to value our custom, whether that’s Apple or Google itself.
This isn’t an attack on Google, which openly acknowledges that Android software updates outside of the Pixel family are mostly an atrocity. Project Treble, a part of Android 8.0, is its way of making major updates easier for manufacturers to implement. It’s all very complicated, and works deep inside the operating system, so you don’t really need to understand how it works. What you need to know is Google’s trying hard to get manufacturers to update Android on its devices by making it easier than ever before.
However, Project Treble doesn’t force manufacturers to code and release an update on a timely basis. Version updates may still come at a snail’s pace, and only arrive on flagship phones. There’s no binding contract either, so updates may never come to a cheaper device.
Project Treble is also only part of Android Oreo, which as we’ve already stated, is only on 6 percent of Android phones. It’s also not going to be part of any Oreo updates either. Which means the benefits will only come to current and future phones released with the latest Android version, and its impact will take at least a year to be felt by phone owners. Here, we’re just going to remind you that iOS 12 will be out around September time, and will be instantly compatible with the five-year-old iPhone 5S.
We want the new features, the extra security, and the knowledge our business matters that regular software updates bring. It is important, and even if you don’t care about any new features, the security and stability tweaks make our phones work better, for longer. Yes, problems have occurred in the past — Apple has made some terrible errors with software updates for a minority of users in the past, for example — but this doesn’t always happen, and we’d always recommend not being the first to download an update before seeing how it performs out in the wild.
We shouldn’t rejoice when an Android update arrives on our phone. We should be nonplussed because it’s such a normal, accepted occurrence. The only way to get this is to buy a Google Pixel 2 or future Pixel phone, one in the Android One program, or just buy an Apple iPhone. The announcement of iOS 12 and its compatibility demonstrates in very clear terms how much Apple values its customers. We shouldn’t let other manufacturers get away with valuing them less.