Why some Android phones get lots of updates and some don’t? Explained by Google CEO Sundar Pichai

We have been following the Google antitrust lawsuit over the last few weeks. Though still primarily business-focused, several of the revelations made thus far have been interesting or even eyebrow-raising.

But Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, stood up yesterday (via The Verge). In his evidence, Pichai provided a glimpse into Google’s inner workings and helped to explain why people are irate that security updates for Android phones aren’t being received. Pichai claims that Google provides financial incentives for OEMs to upgrade their phones. Google services provide a larger revenue share to companies whose phones are updated with the most recent security patches than to those whose phones are not.

Put another way, the amount of money an OEM receives from you use Google products on its device is directly connected to how frequently it applies security fixes to that device. This reveals something we were unaware of before: Google purposefully presses OEMs to update their phones more frequently. We were aware that Google requires updates for every Android phone purchased within the first two years and strongly encourages for longer support, but we were unaware that there were financial benefits as well.

Additionally, according to Pichai, some OEMs would choose not to update their phones even though they know they will lose out on potential revenue. “OEMs sometimes have to make tradeoffs because updating software costs money and requires more work than developing the next version,” Pichai stated.

When we consider businesses like Sony, Motorola, OnePlus, and others that provide some of their phones with a limited upgrades, this news has us questioning our heads. That’s money that, as far as we can tell, is not taken. But the number of users may be so low that the money the company would have to spend on updating the phone would exceed the possible revenue split the OEM may receive from Google. It would be simple to decide not to update the phone if that were the case.

The next time you question why your Android phone isn’t running the most recent security patch, keep this information in mind.