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Sundar Pichai admits Google strongarms Android OEMs into updates


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C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

TL;DR

  • Sundar Pichai recently testified at the ongoing Google antitrust trial.
  • During his testimony, Pichai admitted that Google strongarms Android OEMs into maintaining their smartphones’ software.
  • Essentially, OEMs that let phones languish without updates see a decreased revenue share from Google services.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been following the ongoing Google antitrust lawsuit. Many of the revelations thus far have been interesting or even eyebrow-raising but still very business-focused.

Yesterday, however, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took to the stand (via The Verge). During his testimony, Pichai revealed a tidbit on how Google operates that gives a better look behind the curtain and could help explain users’ frustration with Android phones not seeing security updates. According to Pichai, Google financially incentivizes OEMs to update their phones. Companies that keep phones current with the latest security patches see a higher revenue share from Google services than those that don’t.

In other words, the amount of money an OEM makes from you using Google products on its device is correlated to how often it keeps that device up to date with security patches. This means Google intentionally strongarms OEMs to be better about updating phones, which is something we didn’t know before. We knew that Google mandates two years of updates for any Android phone and strongly encourages more extended support than that, but we didn’t realize there were financial incentives involved.

Pichai also said that certain OEMs will neglect to update phones even with the understanding that it will cause them to lose out on potential income. “More effort goes into developing the next version, and updates are costly,” Pichai said, “so sometimes [OEMs] make tradeoffs.”

This revelation makes us scratch our heads when we think about companies like Sony, Motorola, OnePlus, and others that deliver only the bare minimum of updates to some of their phones. As far as we can tell, that’s money left on the table. However, the user base might be small enough that the amount of money the company would need to spend to keep the phone updated is greater than the potential revenue share the OEM could earn from Google. If that’s the case, then not updating the phone is an easy decision.

Think about this information next time you wonder why your Android phone is months behind on the latest security patch.



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