Android 7.0, also known as Android Nougat, is out now although the fragmented nature of Android is such that it may be quite some time before your phone gets a new update. In fact, the most reliable way to get a new update is to buy a new phone.
This latest update is available for only Nexus phones right now and is also launching with the LG V20. Google has tried many times to end fragmentation since it hurts developers for the platform, but it has been spectacularly unsuccessful right now.
Google first thought that market forces and consumer choice would be enough to convince Hardware partners and Carriers to push put updates that it released. When that did not work, it tried to break up Android updates into smaller app-specific updates so that more and more users could get the benefits and the carrier would need to test a smaller update before approving it for the users.
That also has not worked and now it looks like Google is coming out with another option. There are rumors that Google is moving to a regular maintenance schedule for its operating system with updates being released every quarter.
This will have two effects. The first will be that hardware partners and carriers will have a fixed timeline on which they can expect updates to roll in and thus plan their work accordingly. The other is that the size of these updates will be smaller and more manageable.
Google has been releasing regular security updates for its platforms over the last few months and most of the hardware partners have been able to stick with the schedule.
Of course, this does not address the biggest obstacle of all. Money. Simply put, there is absolutely no incentive for hardware partners to spend time and money in trying to update their custom skins for new OS updates for phones that they have already sold.
They would much rather spend that money in trying to make more phones or develop software for upcoming phones that will add to their bottom line. Also, even though Android is very successful and has effectively taken over the mobile world, very few of its hardware partners are actually making big money.
The Lion’s share of the profits from all smartphone sales is going to Apple and Samsung. Apart from that, companies like HTC, Sony, and even LG to some extent are struggling to keep their smartphone business afloat.
Razor thin margins and continuing pressure from Chinese companies that are making high-quality phones for a fraction of the price means that this trend is unlikely to reverse soon.
In such a scenario, it is wise for Google to be planning more frequent updates when even annual ones are unable to be fulfilled? Another option that Google is exploring is to decouple the core of the Android OS from the various skins that hardware partners and/or carriers put on them. This way, they would only be responsible for their own customization while the core OS could be updated by direct updates from Google.