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Google may turn up heat on carriers, manufacturers over pace of Android updates

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It’s no secret that Android’s biggest flaw is its fragmentation — Google’s inability to issue necessary updates to the more than one billion active devices in the world. The search giant may start cracking down soon, however, as it’s reportedly building a rankings tool to shame manufacturers into releasing updates, according to Bloomberg.

It’s not Google’s fault that only 7.5 percent of all active Android devices are enjoying the Mountain View, California, company’s most recent version of Android — 6.0 Marshmallow. That responsibility falls to device manufacturers like Samsung, LG, HTC, and Motorola, all of which have either been reluctant to bother with frequent updates or have just been incredibly slow in releasing them.

Now, the company is said to be making a ranking of all the top phone manufacturers in terms of how up to date their devices are, Bloomberg reports. The search giant shared the list with Android partners, and is considering whether or not to make the list public in an effort to shame manufacturers into providing updates.

Updates are important

Updating software is crucial because it can fix critical bugs and make the operating system more secure. It’s also a way for Google to bring its newest and best features to Android’s user base of 1.4 billion people.

One example is the Stagefright exploit, which allowed nearly a billion Android devices to be taken over by hackers. Google quickly patched the vulnerability, but its existence raised global concerns over Android security. It prompted Google to begin issuing monthly security updates to Android One and Nexus devices.

Samsung, LG, and other manufacturers followed suit, but it’s carriers that are now in the way of pushing updates to customers. Carriers don’t see security as a priority, and manufacturers want to sell you more phones, not waste resources on updating current devices, a senior researcher at security firm Zimperium told Bloomberg.

It’s likely why the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission sent a letter to manufacturers and carriers, inquiring into the security process and how they go about issuing updates.

“There have recently been a growing number of vulnerabilities associated with mobile operating systems that threaten the security and integrity of a user’s device, including ‘Stagefright’ in the Android operating system, which may affect almost 1 billion Android devices globally,” the FCC said in a blog post.

Bypassing carriers and manufacturers

Google has been able to counter the problem of fragmentation by uncoupling various apps from the core operating system, and delivering updates to the OS and apps via Google Play Services, the framework for the Google Play Store. For example, at Google I/O 2016, the company unveiled a new way to stream app experiences instantly without having to install an app. It’s to avoid dealing with mobile websites, which can often be slow and may not br optimized for smartphones.

The company showcased Android Instant Apps on a device running a previous version of Android — 4.4 KitKat. Once it begins rolling out, it will be available to devices running 4.1 Jellybean — that’s 95 percent of all Android devices. Another way the company is trying to fix the problem is by releasing the upcoming developer version of Android N far earlier than previous years, hoping manufacturers and carriers will take advantage of the ample time provided to optimize their themes and services.

That’s probably also why Google’s new Assistant platform is heading first to iOS and Android devices through Allo, an app that almost everyone will be able to download.

If anything, Android N will be a testing ground to see if this pressure from Google is working — or whether the company will have to start taking more drastic measures and change the structure of the operating system to finally deal with fragmentation.

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Julian Chokkattu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Julian is the mobile and wearables editor at Digital Trends, covering smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and more…
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