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(Pocket-lint) - Qualcomm and Google have announced a partnership aiming to make it easier for Android phone manufacturers to ensure that their devices are compatible with the latest version of the Android OS and accelerate the update process.

While there's little practical difference between the functionality of leading Android phones and Apple's own smartphone the iPhone, updates have always been the bugbear of Google's platform.

Not only does Apple manage to update all its devices on the same day, but that often includes support for many legacy devices. iOS 14, the latest iPhone software from Apple goes all the way back to the iPhone SE, announced in 2016. Android 11, by contrast, only goes back as far as the Pixel 2, announced in 2017.

But that's only part of the picture, because many mainstream brands, like Samsung, won't support devices that are older. There's no sign, for example, that the Samsung Galaxy S9 - launched in 2018 - will get Android 11.

Google has been trying to address the issue for updates and update speed through Project Treble, designed to make it faster and easier for vendors to update their devices. That's worked to some extent, with a faster roll-out of the latest Android version in some models over the past few years, helped by things like rolling beta programmes.

The latest announcement from Qualcomm and Google seems to be much more specific. Starting with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, Qualcomm will be supporting four years of OS and security updates to devices using the Project Treble framework. That should make it easier for manufacturers using Qualcomm hardware to push updates and close that gap with Apple's update position - and that's likely to ring true for Google's own Pixel variety of phones.

Of course this is only part of the equation: manufacturers will no longer be able to blame the underlying hardware for lack of updates, but they will still have to ensure that everything else they have in their devices works the way is should. For those companies that change the entire experience, that's still a lot of work to do.

Referring back to Samsung, that might not change the situation for the company which has a huge number of phone variants, split across both Qualcomm and Exynos hardware, but it potentially means longer support for those of those older flagship devices.

Ultimately, Android still faces an uphill battle. Projects like Android One were supposed to deliver an experience that's always up to date. But at the time of writing, Nokia (the biggest user of Android One) hasn't updated any of its Android 10 devices some 3 months since the release of Android 11 on Pixel phones.

We're not expecting parity between Apple and Google - Apple has a huge home advantage, with tighter control over how and where iOS is used - while also only running on premium devices. Android is a lot more open, much more widely distributed and is available on many more affordable devices which might never make it onto a company's update list. But this might strengthen the case for those devices using Qualcomm hardware and at the very least, we'd expect to see longer support for Pixel devices too. 

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Writing by Chris Hall. Originally published on 18 December 2020.