Update schedule

Google provides major updates, incremental in nature, to Android every six to nine months, which most devices are capable of receiving over the air. The latest major update is Android 4.4 KitKat.



Compared to its chief rival mobile operating system, namely iOS, Android updates are typically slow to reach actual devices. For devices not under the Nexus brand, updates often arrive months from the time the given version is officially released. This is caused partly due to the extensive variation in hardware of Android devices, to which each update must be specifically tailored, as the official Google source code only runs on their flagship Nexus devices. Porting Android to specific hardware is a time- and resource-consuming process for device manufacturers, who prioritize their newest devices and often leave older ones behind. Hence, older smartphones are frequently not updated if the manufacturer decides it is not worth their time, regardless of whether the phone is capable of running the update. This problem is compounded when manufacturers customize Android with their own interface and apps, which must be reapplied to each new release. Additional delays can be introduced by wireless carriers who, after receiving updates from manufacturers, further customize and brand Android to their needs and conduct extensive testing on their networks before sending the update out to users.

The lack of after-sale support from manufacturers and carriers has been widely criticized by consumer groups and the technology media. Some commentators have noted that the industry has a financial incentive not to update their devices, as the lack of updates for existing devices fuels the purchase of newer ones, an attitude described as "insulting". The Guardian has complained that the complicated method of distribution for updates is only complicated because manufacturers and carriers have designed it that way. In 2011, Google partnered with a number of industry players to announce an "Android Update Alliance", pledging to deliver timely updates for every device for 18 months after its release; however, this alliance has never been mentioned since.

In 2012, Google began decoupling certain aspects of the operating system (particularly core applications) so they could be updated through Google Play Store, independently of Android itself. One of these components, Google Play Services, is a system-level process providing APIs for Google services, installed automatically on nearly all devices running Android version 2.2 and higher. With these changes, Google can add new operating system functionality through Play Services and application updates without having to distribute an update to the operating system itself. As a result, Android 4.2 and 4.3 contained relatively fewer user-facing changes, focusing more on minor changes and platform improvements.