A few days ago, OnePlus did something that might have left Google with a little egg on its face. Or make that Pie. The Never Settling brand announced that the OnePlus 6 would be getting an update that would take the software on it to Android Pie (Android 9), the latest version of Android. Which makes it perhaps the first major Android device – apart from Google’s own Pixel range – to be updated to the latest version of Android. Which would be good news for Google. After all, high profile devices being updated to the latest Android should logically be good news, right? Well, it generally is – only there is a tiny subtext that is likely to be disconcerting to Android’s parent: the fact that OnePlus was able to get the latest version of Android on its device well before a range of devices whose biggest claim to fame was the fact that they would get regular and timely updates to Android because Google itself was involved in their design and software (the Android One page does declare – “designed by Google” right at the top.
It was not supposed to be this way, was it? Sure, we all are used to the latest version of Android taking its time to trickle down to existing and older devices, leading to the much-documented “Android fragmentation” issue. But we had been informed that that was because manufacturers elaborate skins on Android made updating it a problem. And, of course, that they would rather expend their effort on doing it for new devices than providing updates for old ones. There was a period when we thought that having stock Android (like the one on the Moto G and Moto E series) would make updates easier, but as time passed, it seemed that was not the case either. Of course, Google had started the Android One initiative in 2014 itself, trying to make pure, updated Android affordable and accessible to more people but that had run out of steam, because of… well, delayed and irregular updates.
Now, we are not saying that the second coming of Android One (which started last year with Xiaomi’s releasing the Mi A1) will suffer a similar fate. But we cannot help but feel a sense of foreboding when a company like OnePlus that makes its own UI manages to update it for its device well before those running on “designed by Google” did. And the irony is that, unlike in Android One’s first coming, where most of the main players were strong local ones, this time, there are a number of high profile international brands and devices in the initiative. For instance, almost all of Nokia’s smartphones come under Android One and Xiaomi has two high profile devices in the initiative. Even Motorola’s latest device, the Motorola One Power, is part of the Android One initiative. When we last checked, none of those devices had been updated to Android Pie in India. Yes, we have been given assurances that they will get it by the end of the year, but given that Android Pie has been around for a while now, we are honestly a little disappointed at why recently released Android One devices like the Nokia 5.1 Plus and the Motorola One Power came with Android Oreo out of the box. Whatever happened to all the talk of timely updates?
Now, there might be excellent technical reasons as to why all the Android One devices in India are still in Android O-land, and to be fair, most (especially those from Nokia) have been getting monthly security updates, but then so have devices that are not part of the initiative (take a bow, Asus, in particular). Yes, a number of Android devices have had Android P in beta form, but then the number of users who dare to dabble with betas is a very small one indeed.
All of which unfortunately undermines the whole concept of Android One. Yes, stock/pure/uncluttered Android running smoothly on relatively affordable devices is great. Yes, regular security updates are good too.
And as long as no other manufacturer had moved their device up to Android P, not too many would have noticed but OnePlus’ P update to OnePlus 6 has pretty much put the cat among the Android One pigeons. But we really think Google and its partners need to pull up their OS updating socks.
Because surely if OnePlus can bake some Android Pie, so can its creator.