FCC Investigation May Change The Way Android Works
Android, frequently and updated aren't three words you generally find together in a sentence (unless the sentence is something like 'most Android handsets aren't frequently updated'). However with the increasing importance of our smartphones to all aspects of our lives, the potential financial risk they expose us to and the terribly fragmented state of the Android user base it looks like legislation may be on its way.
In the US the FCC has started an investigation into the slow delivery of security updates to Android handsets, a failing which exposes hundreds of millions of users worldwide to malicious attacks. They are unlikely to find a fix which fits with the current status quo.
The problem is a function of the way that Google, OEMs and carriers work. In order to get an update onto a user's handset it needs to pass through at least two and sometimes all three of those organisations before being pushed out.
That introduces delay and increases risk for Android users. The current state of operating system penetration in Android shows just how bad things are. Marshmallow has achieved just 7.5% share after six months of availability.
Whilst Nexus users can feel confident of receiving the updates they need, other OEMs have struggled to keep to a timetable for even the most recent flagship releases. Never mind the lower end and mid-range handsets, which seem to be abandoned almost from the moment they are announced.
So what options are there to improve the situation? Firstly Google needs to make fixes available more quickly. OEMs need to test and certify updates for more handsets and carriers need to get out of the process completely.
In reality that won't ever happen. So the FCC has to find another way out of the mess. And that's likely to be legislation which makes the OEMs or carriers responsible for delivering the updates. And compelling them to deliver updates to all smartphones for an extended period of time from the last date they are available for sale.
How will this change the Android market? I suspect that more and more low end phones will ship with default Android builds and no customisation because that's the only way to comply in a cost effective manner.
I also suspect that some of the larger, but unprofitable OEMs will see it as an indication that it's time to pack up their smartphone divisions and concentrate on something else.