Android updates don't matter anymore

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Android updates don't matter anymore
It's 2019 and major Android updates are now largely irrelevant to the majority of users. 

There was a time when waiting for the next big Android update meant getting new and exciting features coming to the most popular and widespread mobile OS in the world, but things have cooled off in the past two or three years and Google has been coming up with some pretty forgettable Android updates. 

You win, fragmentation, Android updates don't really matter anymore! 

Has Android peaked?

In my opinion, it doesn't really matter if your Android device isn't running on the latest major Android version at hand. I feel that Android has already peaked and the rate of software innovation has been declining for a few years now. Google is seemingly scraping the barrel as far as innovative software features are concerned. In fact, most of the "new" features that are coming to Android Q are inspired from iOS and other custom Android skins, while others are quite irrelevant. I'm sorry, but as far as my personal excitement list is concerned, Digital Wellbeing doesn't exactly cut it. 

It doesn't really matter if you're running Android Nougat, Oreo, or Pie anymore - you're not really missing any groundbreaking new feature or functionality. Actually, ever since the Android 5.0 Lollipop update, you can probably count the really important features Android has scored on your hands, with the rest being easily forgettable fluff. Let me do this real quick:

- Doze Mode (Android Marshmallow);
- ART runtime (Android Marshmallow);
- Vulkan API (Android Nougat);
- Bundled notifications (Android Nougat);
- Picture-in-Picture (Android Oreo); 
- Project Treble (Android Oreo);
- Gestures (Android Pie).

Security updates is where it's at

A much, much more important thing to fluster about are the essential monthly security patches. Now, these are key for a worry-free smartphone experience. I'm pretty far from the thought that once you get the latest security patch you're effectively invulnerable to any security breach - whatever you do, you can never really be 100% certain of your digital safety while using your phone, just like your data is never secure on the Internet. Whatever security features get implemented, there always be some deep exploit that would allow wrongdoers to gain access to people's most sensitive data. It has happened in the past, and it will most certainly happen again.  Still, having a phone that's up-to-date in terms of monthly security patches can help achieve a certain peace of mind. 

OEM skins have long surpassed stock Android anyway

I feel there's another important point to be made here - custom Android skins have surpassed stock Android in terms of features and functionality a long time ago. Samsung, Huawei, and OnePlus have all developed much more useful and feature-packed Android spin-offs. In fact, most of the major new features that you see added to stock Android have debuted and thrived on custom Android versions for longer. Split-screen, gestures, dark mode, and many others were only implemented into stock Android after Samsung, Huawei, LG, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and the others had experimented with these features for some time. Those manufacturer updates are the ones we really should keep our collective breath for - not only do they introduce major new features, but also  your manufacturer's major software updates are a much more important thing to hold your breath for. These might have a much bigger impact on your smartphone experience - not only do these deliver full interface overhauls (like with Samsung's OneUI), but they could also bring important improvements to the camera performance, battery optimization, and other beneficial updates. Such updates of such a caliber are more often than not tied to a major Android update, but it's not a requirement set in stone. 

Personally, I stopped caring about Android updates a couple of years ago, sometime in the Android Nougat-Oreo interim. The only software update I've legit been hyped about ever since has been Samsung's OneUI update, which is the best Android skin in my humble opinion.

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64 Comments

1. GeorgeDao123

Posts: 432; Member since: Aug 20, 2013

That's what I've been saying since last 2 years.

7. SayMobile

Posts: 157; Member since: Jan 29, 2014

Definately doesnt matter for Samsung users. Their Flagships have always remain ahead of Stock Android when it comes to features and deployment.

19. Elvis358

Posts: 242; Member since: Mar 25, 2018

Lol XD

31. EverythingTech

Posts: 8; Member since: Jan 25, 2018

Samsung has to cook up new things with each flagship release. They are horrible at OS updates, just dreadful.

54. wickedwilly

Posts: 740; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

As someone who has actually used Samsung phones for well over 10 years, I disagree. I have seen far more trouble with IOS updates and do not update for at least three to six months, having to endure constant reminders to update. Samsungs skins have been far from perfect but now are top of the class and updates are frequent and seamless.

72. oldskool50 unregistered

No they are not. I want you to find me just one Android phones, that can do EVERYTHING the Galaxy S can do out the box, that is running Vanilla Android. Please find me just one. I wish you the bets of luck. In fact, I can get a 5 year old Samsung device and it will do more than any Android flagship from any brand. The only brand that has caught up in some ways is Huawei. But Huawei doesn't use Vanilla Android which is exactly why more people have been buying them. Samsung phones have never need huge updates, because their phones are all at leats 3-5 years ahead of any Vanilla Android running device, which is why I never bought ANY of them because Vanilla Android devices all suck. I would rather buy an iPhone before I would buy ANY unskinned Android devices. Updates are overrated. Apple needs 100's of updates because of their poor software prowness.

75. JohnZimmerman

Posts: 26; Member since: Sep 17, 2012

I used to think that way. It's certainly true that Galaxy S devices pack in more features than vanilla Android devices. They also have better screens and better designs, and often have quite a few hardware advantages. However, I switched to Pixel phones because, in a word: Security. I've come to understand some of the importance of security updates just by reading about some of the exploits that even current Galaxy devices remained vulnerable to while Pixel phones were quickly patched, due to Samsung's delays in rolling out security updates. Although Samsung has upped its game in this regard, their rate of rolling out security updates is still significantly behind Google's release schedule, due to various unavoidable snags like Samsung needing to test the updates with their fork of Android, verifying the updates work with their plethora of apps and services, and working with cell service providers to actually roll out the updates. So I agree, updates are overrated... except for security updates, which are extremely underrated.

80. LiveFaith

Posts: 492; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

My first Android experience was a Nexus. After all, the tech media and fanboys clamored constantly @ stock Android and how it was superior to Touchwiz(especially) in those days. Bought the Nexus and loved it. Once phone got water damaged, I wanted my stylus back from the Palm days, so I reluctantly tried the Samsung Note and decided to suffer through the sluggish Samsung skin and terrible update schedule. I was 100% tee totally blown away in the first couple of days. Nope only was the Note a beat from a hardware perspective. But it's liked stock Android with all the extras baked into the OS. It was almost like updating to a new platform. And yes the features are so far ahead of stock that when Android itself has major updates they were still way behind the features already on my Notes from a year or 2 before. So yeah, slower updates. But when your 3 steps ahead already being slow and being 2 steps ahead for a few months is an easy pill to swallow. Now Samsung's UI looks amazing all the way through too.

77. moooxooom

Posts: 14; Member since: Jul 16, 2016

I think that's the point. OS updates doesn't matter. Samsung updates are more meaningful and actually useful. OS updates are frequently just catching up to Samsung or the other OEMs.

71. oldskool50 unregistered

They have been ahead of EVERYONE because they don't use stock Android, and that is specifically why Samsung was the sales leader.

26. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Right, Almost all new features from Android Oreo & Pie already exist in Samsung's and Huawei's UI from the same era. The main features on Android Q also already exist in One UI (system wide dark UI, and foldable support)

34. pimpin83z

Posts: 595; Member since: Feb 08, 2019

You've been making no sense the last 2 years.

46. buccob

Posts: 2978; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

In my opinion, Google should do what Microsoft did for Windows, and just keep everyone on "Android X" and push annual updates to everybody (obviously this is up to OEMs and networks, but it would be great this way)

2. Feanor

Posts: 1410; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

As a designer I thoroughly disagree with the article; OEM skins are Android's bane: They offer little in terms of additional functionality, however they introduce user experience inconsistencies that make a good case in favour of Apple. Things that spring to my mind easily are the fact that Huawei doesn't include any decent way of reaching the notification bar or Samsung's two digital assistants in one phone strategy. They also introduce aesthetic inconsistencies with UX split between Google's Material Design for stock applications and different design for the rest of the UI.

15. dvlprr

Posts: 70; Member since: May 08, 2019

Finally someone who understands design.

23. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1459; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

I wouldn't go that far. If you start praising Apple's bland and boringly uninspired UX, i would say you missed something. The most exciting thing that has happened to iOS in years is the split to iPadOS and even to Android tablet users that's a big meh at best.

25. KENNE

Posts: 29; Member since: Oct 23, 2014

Says a guy who doesn't understand design. try sticking to one OEM UI and you'll notice consistency. there is always aesthetic difference Even with the iOS... I mean, what do you call improvement in the first place ? tell me if you won't get bored out with same aesthetics for 5 years or even less. if the UI maintains one aesthetics you'll say stone age designers... but if it makes some changes in aesthetics you'll say inconsistent... what the hell do you want !!!

41. Feanor

Posts: 1410; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

The inconsistency is between the stock Google elements that live in every Android phone and the custom skin. I didn't say that it has anything to do with remaining the same or not in time. I also never praises iOS. I actually prefer stock Android to iOS. I just say that iOS is consistent.

76. JohnZimmerman

Posts: 26; Member since: Sep 17, 2012

I agree there is a break in design consistency inherent in OEM skins. However, as someone with no credentials whatsoever, I disagree with the implication in your original comment that the vanilla Android launcher or settings screens are necessarily more consistent with the Material Design elements of Google apps when compared with OEM skins. I have vanilla Android running on a couple of tablets, and the Pixel launcher running on my phone, and I've always been a little put off by the inconsistencies between Material Design apps and the rest of the OS. OneUI doesn't seem much worse to me in that regard.

20. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1459; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

You're both right and wrong. OEM skins do introduce inconsistencies in the user experience, but the reason OEMs resort to doing that is because Google isn't pulling its weight in that regard. Google is very inconsistent or maybe downright lazy with UX design, its barely changed in years. One example is the Play Store, Google continuously and annoyingly keeps messing with the design and layout as if they don't know what they want, yet other apps like Play Music haven't seen a redesign in over 5 years. I've gone from a near stock Motorola to a Samsung and I can honestly say that some things Samsung just does better than Google, even Motorola made some additions that stock Android didn't have but were a very welcome and improved the user experience. Just like Samsung's approach to the notification bar, the pull down quick toggles and its one handed mode. Truth be told for a time stock Android was the better UX, but that's no longer the case. Also Samsung seems to have made an effort to keep the split between Material Design and their One UI minimal.

21. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Did I need to "understand design" to be able to enjoy my favorite UI? Of course NOT.. It's all about personal PREFERENCE, If I said I like how certain UI looks and works, no one could argue that. Another example, lot's of people like iOS, but it's a nightmare for me. Home screen is just messed up, all simple setting hidden deep inside setting (you need to go to setting just to change video resolution? Seriously?) iOS status bar and file management also a deal breaker for me.

35. pimpin83z

Posts: 595; Member since: Feb 08, 2019

"Another example, lot's of people like iOS, but it's a nightmare for me. Home screen is just messed up, all simple setting hidden deep inside setting (you need to go to setting just to change video resolution? Seriously?) iOS status bar and file management also a deal breaker for me." All of this! I said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not an iPhone basher; I just can't get with iOS & I've tried just as recently as last month. It just doesn't work for me.

37. ph00ny

Posts: 2065; Member since: May 26, 2011

Why does OEM skins matter when apps run in full screen and interface within the app is up to the app designer. This isn't iOS where you need to have certain UI objects to match. I think the whole "as a designer" is a horsecrap

40. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

@Feanor, please list the things you design so I can avoid them. By your logic all cars (for example) should have the same interiors and layouts. When it comes to features and functionality OEM skins are far ahead of stock android and even further ahead ios. The list of what you can't do on ios compared to android is much longer than unique ios features. I won't even get into the clusterf*ck that's the ios homescreen.

78. moooxooom

Posts: 14; Member since: Jul 16, 2016

Would be good if you can actually name a few non core OS or google specific change in the past 5 years that doesn't already exist in OEM skins. Maybe I can give a bit of leeway and extend the timeframe to 8 years. When I first tried a "pure android" phone a years ago, I was absolutely horrified at what a basic, stupid phone it was. That was then I realised that a lot of functionality in the past Samsung flagship phones are important tweaks by people who actually use phones to do things. That goes for Huawei phones and Xiaomi phones (though xiaomi phones are so crippled on features that I can't bare to use them for long). I mean honestly... Android only got the ability to swipe down on notification panels for full screen applications in past few years. I've been doing that on Samsung phones for more than 10 years already?

3. Obie-Wan

Posts: 113; Member since: May 24, 2012

I do not agree at some point, like when u said that android's innovation has peaked now, imho it still have room to grow a little bit more. Maybe it's the current hardware tech that slows android's growth. But i agree that on so many levels android version doesn't really matter anymore, probably since android N.

4. mickchanning

Posts: 1; Member since: Apr 06, 2019

stop it, version updates still matter as apps + google will stop support older versions down the line. if thoses devices dont get updated they become obsolete. do you support more ewaste?

9. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Even android 4.2 can easily runnall apps. Android 5 won't have to worry about Play Services before 2022.

38. ph00ny

Posts: 2065; Member since: May 26, 2011

shh most folks do not understand api compatibility

22. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

That'll only happen if you dont upgrade your OS or smartphone for the last 7 YEARS... Thats not a problem for 99% out there.

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