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Android 5.0 Lollipop was released in November. In February, a full three months later, TechCrunch reported that fewer than 2% of Android devices were running it. Now, in March, that number still hovers around the 3% mark.

Compare that to Android’s primary rival. Apple released iOS 8.0 in September iOS 8 Is Here: 10 Reasons to Install It Right Away iOS 8 Is Here: 10 Reasons to Install It Right Away If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you'll want to upgrade it to iOS 8 as soon as possible. Here's why. Read More and by November, just two months later, over 60% of iPhones were running the latest version — and that’s actually slow when you look at the adoption rate of previous iOS versions.

What gives? Why do Android devices update to the latest version so much slower than their competitors? Why isn’t your device running Lollipop yet?

The Problem Is Android’s Design

As it turns out, the issue of slow update rollout and even slower update adoption is nothing new when you look at Android’s version history. We looked at Android’s fragmented version adoption A Quick Guide To Android Versions & Updates [Android] A Quick Guide To Android Versions & Updates [Android] If someone tells you they’re running Android, they’re not saying as much as you’d think. Unlike the major computer operating systems, Android is a broad OS that covers numerous versions and platforms. If you’d like... Read More all the way back in 2011, yet very little has changed since then.

The issue stems from Android’s core design philosophy: an open environment that can be adapted and customized and presented by anyone who can manufacture a phone. That openness is one of Android’s biggest selling points because Android users love freedom, but it comes with a few big problems — like Android app piracy Piracy On Android: How Bad Is It Really? Piracy On Android: How Bad Is It Really? Android is notorious for its rampant piracy, so we investigate exactly how bad it is. Read More .

android-update-process-too-many-androids

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Despite officially being available in November, Lollipop was actually only available to certain Nexus devices at the time. Why? Because manufacturers adopt and develop updates at their own pace, which is also why those same manufacturers announced Lollipop availability estimates Android 5.0 Lollipop: What It Is And When You'll Get It Android 5.0 Lollipop: What It Is And When You'll Get It Android 5.0 Lollipop is here, but only on Nexus devices. What exactly is new about this operating system, and when can you expect it to arrive on your device? Read More .

By contrast, iOS is a single ecosystem that’s tightly maintained and regulated by Apple. They don’t have to bother with HTC, Samsung, and Motorola versions of the iPhone; rather, any given iPhone is the same as the next, so updates are easier to test and faster to push out.

And really, that’s what all of these Android delays come down to: the sheer number of devices that need to be supported.

It All Starts with Google…

Let’s say you and your two friends each buy the same LEGO kit Google Announces New LEGO Project: Build With Chrome Google Announces New LEGO Project: Build With Chrome Ever wanted to build something out of LEGOs but avoid the danger of stepping on one of those foot-destroyers? Well, the Chrome team and LEGO Group have a treat for you: Build With Chrome. Read More (which can actually be put to a productive use How To Use LEGOs To Manage Your Time Better How To Use LEGOs To Manage Your Time Better I think I've found the ultimate productivity tool: LEGOs. Don't leave! Let me explain. Read More ) and use it to build a unique creation. A few months later, LEGO releases another kit and all three of you purchase it so that you can improve what you’ve already made.

Each of you has to incorporate those new pieces, but the process is going to be different for each of you because your creations are all constructed in different ways. You might find it easy to adapt, but your friends might struggle and take longer to get it working.

But before we delve into that, let’s look at what it takes to produce those new LEGO kits (read: new Android versions) in the first place.

android-update-process-google-updates

Google works on upcoming Android versions behind the scenes. Once they announce a new version to the public, Google provides the source code for that version on their website so that carriers and manufacturers can evaluate it and decide which devices will support the new update.

Looking at the pattern of its history, Google tends to announce new Android versions every 6 to 12 months, often favoring to release between July and November but sometimes choosing to deviate if the circumstances call for it.

Once the source code is available, it’s up to manufacturers to get it packaged and ready for customers in a timely fashion.

…And Ends with the Carriers

A little over a year ago, HTC released an infographic detailing the elaborate process that’s required to transform a new Android version into something that can be pushed out onto current devices.

Going back to the LEGO analogy, let’s say you’re HTC and you need to incorporate these new LEGO pieces into what you’ve already built. For that, you need to speak with carriers and see what they want.

android-update-process-htc-infographic

Maybe AT&T wants pieces A, B, and C in their devices while T-Mobile wants pieces X, Y, and Z in theirs. There are 100+ carriers around the world, and they each want something different. As HTC, you’ll need to accommodate many of them, which means building and testing hundreds of variations.

Once bugs are squashed (and trust me, there will be plenty of bugs throughout the process), those devices need to be approved by said carriers, plus Google, along with any other region-specific regulatory bodies.

When all of that is settled and done, HTC can finally prepare their over-the-air (OTA) servers with all of these device-specific updates. Once the servers are ready, HTC users are notified of an available update that can be downloaded and applied.

Other manufacturers operate in a similar fashion.

As you can tell, it’s an involved process that requires a lot of time thanks to the numerous back-and-forth exchanges between all of the requests, tests, and iterations that are common to any software development process What Does "Beta Software" Really Mean? What Does "Beta Software" Really Mean? What does it mean for a project to be in beta and should you care? Read More .

What Version of Android Are You Running?

So why isn’t your Android device up to date yet? Maybe your particular model doesn’t support the latest version, but the more likely explanation is that you just need to wait a bit longer.

Does Android’s slow rollout process annoy you? Is it enough to make you switch to iOS? Or are you content putting up with it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: waiting room Via Shutterstock, Pile of Android Phones Via Shutterstock, Basic Android Phone Via Shutterstock, HTC Update Process Infographic

  1. Soundman
    September 4, 2016 at 9:40 am

    It's about time andriod, and especially Samsung got there finger out, and get their act together as far as updates are concerned. Samsungs latest mobile fones are very expensive, and are quick enough to take your cash from you, you would thing the least they could do was to to make sure your fone was up to date with the latest software..... Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr :-( :-( :-(

  2. Donna Maclin
    August 17, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    I am still running 4.1.2 on my LG Optimus G from ATT. I have heard people complaining about the Lollipop. It has been a few years since I got my phone and it is still running strong. (knock on wood)

  3. Uzi
    May 14, 2015 at 1:52 am

    Me and my girlfriend have the exact same phone with the same carrier. Her phone updated to lollipop awhile ago and my phone is running kitkat and says it is up to date.

  4. George
    May 2, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    It's not annoying enough to make the switch to iOS, but it's extremely annoying and emphasizes Google's careless product management and poor customer service.

  5. Annoyed
    April 12, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    i have a samsung galaxy s5 and i still havent recieved any update its so annoying....i am stuck on 4.4.2 i am going to get rid of this stupid phone if i dont get the update soon....do you recommend i do a update via downloading the software on my pc and doing it from there?

  6. Jorge Sanchez
    April 6, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    I'm running 2.4. I had 4.2, but it didn't offer much more and was a tad more buggy. There are a few apps that aren't 2.4 compatible, but barely noticeable---android apps in general are disappointing but at least 2.4 has google talk, which is superior to google hangouts. I'll probably buy a new phone with 5.1+, but only if I see one with a slide-out or fold-out keyboard built in. Still holding my breath for a fully-implemented linux phone though

    • Joel Lee
      April 12, 2015 at 1:32 am

      2.4, wow! Which device are you running it on? I'd be interested to hear how it performs compared to 4.x and 5.x.

  7. Kris
    March 24, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Nexus 6 owner here. I specifically made the switch to a "true" android device so that I could always be up to date with new and updated software.

    Do I have 5.1 yet?

    NO!

    I'm so frustrated. I even know (thanks to Android Police) that the OTA is available, it just hasn't been sent my way yet. Very frustrating!

    • Joel Lee
      April 12, 2015 at 1:32 am

      Yikes, that is pretty frustrating. Would you say it's enough to prod you towards iOS? Or is it still worth using an Android?

  8. Gary
    March 23, 2015 at 12:27 am

    I have the ATT Note 4. Still on kk. If I had it to do over, I probably would have jumped back to the iPhone 6. The Note 4 is laggy and I'm tired of waiting on the upgrade.

  9. Sharhonda
    March 22, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    I am not jumping ship to go to an OS that I have no ability to customize. Mine will look just like the other 100,000 they sold on that day around the world. No thanks. I will not be forced to deal with iTunes, a program I loathe. I left Apple for Android and no amount of them updating their carbon copies wil send me back. Am I annoyed to not have lollipop yet? Absolutely but I hate that my pizza delivery guy takes too long sometimes but I'm not going to order bland pizza from another restaurant just because I will get it faster. I will wait to have what I love rather than settling. JMO

    • Joel
      March 23, 2015 at 3:08 am

      Haha, I love the pizza analogy!

  10. BMOREiTGUY
    March 21, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    4.4.2 on both my Samsung Galaxy tab pro and my zmax! WTF already?!

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Hope you don't have to wait too much longer! Fingers crossed.

  11. Kory Hall
    March 20, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    I ok with waiting for the upgrade to lollipop. The way I look at it my 2 year old Samsung note 3 running kit kat is still 2 years ahead technology wise of apple's 6.

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:36 pm

      Haha, that's certainly one way to look at it. I think I'm inclined to agree with you, but I'm obviously a bit biased regarding Android vs. iOS seeing as how I'm an Android user. :)

  12. Chinmay S
    March 20, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 which I bought in March 2013 which was a flagship back then. It came with Android 4.2.2 and today on 20th March, 2015 it is still stuck at Android 4.2.2

    You are talking about Lollipop. My $700 flagship phone didn't receive KitKat.

    • javelinanddart
      March 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      Then you must not be looking very hard. I have a Galaxy S4, I got a KK update and LP is in the works. Stop complaining because of your stupidity

    • Chinmay Sarupria
      March 22, 2015 at 3:24 am

      @javelinanddart I contacted Samsung support, they asked me to give baseband version of my S4 and then said KitKat hasn't been released for that baseband version. One of my friend has a Galaxy S4 which I updated to KitKat so just keep your stupidity with you.

  13. JMS
    March 20, 2015 at 7:48 am

    In practice customers have to buy a new device to get the latest version of android. Or stated differently, you must upgrade the hardware to upgrade the software. Not one of the 5 different manufacturers of android tablets I have bought for my grandchildren in the last 2-3 years updated their device's operating system when jellybean, kit kat and now lollipop were released This alone is a reason i bought an iphone and an ipad for myself instead of an android phone or tablet.. Utterly ridiculous.

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:35 pm

      Maybe the issue is your carrier not pushing update notifications to your devices? Which carrier do you use? Also, which device brands?

    • javelinanddart
      March 21, 2015 at 6:58 pm

      You're probably buying those phones at Walgreens from a name you've never heard of. You know why they don't update it? Because they 1. don't exist and 2. they're probably in China, meaning no one is going to force them to update it like they do in the UK (Whatever android version is released in 2 years after it's release date, it has to be updated to it)

  14. Jam
    March 20, 2015 at 5:05 am

    Nexus 5 running 5.1

  15. Herman
    March 20, 2015 at 4:01 am

    I am running android 4.4.4 on my Samsung galaxy Note 4 SM-N910H. I really cannot understand why I still not receive an update notification on the latest flagship of Samsung. It is very boring to have to check manually each day if update is available and really I start hating Samsung.

  16. Levar
    March 20, 2015 at 3:02 am

    I've been a Samsung fan since galaxy s I've done had blackberry HTC Motorola iPhone LG etc. Samsung takes it. 5.0 is excellent I had a LG g3 and that phone was great but I had to get a note 3. I'm really getting aggravated waiting on this update.

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Hopefully you don't have to wait too much longer for the update. What is it about Samsung that you prefer over the others?

  17. Jastman
    March 20, 2015 at 1:54 am

    If iOS would allow more Android-esque abilities like widgets, home screen configuration, etc. I would definitely switch to iOS. Probably the worst thing about the Android OS is the forced waiting.

    I love the idea of forcing phone manufacturers and carriers to use a stock or close to stock version of the Android OS. Would that drive them away from the platform and go to Cyanogen? Not sure.

    I do know it shouldn't take 4 months for the LG G3 on T-Mo to get 5.0. ThIs is 2015 there has to be a better way!!!

    This will eventually drive enough average users to iOS that it will kill Android OS.

    I

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      Agreed. Some of the bottlenecks in the update pipeline really need to be optimized. This long of a lag time is unacceptable in an age when technology becomes obsolete overnight.

  18. Alan Trinder
    March 20, 2015 at 1:19 am

    My Sony Z has yet to update, my Samsung note tablet is miles behind that, would it make me go to Apple? No but I may consider Windows...

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:32 pm

      Nice! I've also considered making the switch to Windows Phone. If you do bite the bullet, please let us know how it goes. I could use a few anecdotes to help my own decision making. :)

  19. P.J.
    March 19, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    there's a lot I love about my S4 Active but I'm seriously considering going back to an iPhone. Updates are not available, no worthwhile app is available to transfer/sync/play music. I haven't found an android media app yet that doesn't pale in comparison to itunes, an app that I absolutely loathe. The lollipop update fiasco is ridiculous. It's vaporware. So long android. I had high hopes for you but I'm afraid Apple has won a decisive victory. it's back to IOS for me

    • adam non
      March 20, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      No apps?
      A couple of Google searches for Android media player and there's millions of people using a couple of 4-star apps, just a matter of trying something to your taste, I think.
      What in Lollipop is keeping you awake at night?
      I have a S4 Active. It can be manually updated. I just don't see it as compelling to be a beta field test user. The phone and the watch need to be stable for me.
      About all I want is better integration with the Gear 2 smartwatch, but Andy-five-oh is more Google-centric and Samsung is more like Apple -- trying to be surreptitiously proprietary. I don't think there's a better smartwatch on the market than the Gear 2 (or Gear S if you want an even bigger watch with its own mobile number ... which is where (wear?) Apple should have gone with their Watch, in my humble.
      The other missing app is a better sync tool for Mac OS X and Android.
      I don't mind iTunes (I have an iPhone 6 as a second line and LTE hotspot) but it's getting worse and more "idiot friendly" (i.e. refuses to do things simply and requires arcane obedience to its ways ...) so beware of the illusion that the grass may look greener.
      If I lost both phones (as I feared I did the other day, so the thought was quickly in mind) I know I'd replace them with a single Android device and the iPhone would be replaced by an iPad Air 2 and use voip as needed.

  20. nathan
    March 19, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I have a galaxy s3 on the textnow carrier. This is a very small US based cell service that only charges $19 a month for 500megs of data. However, I am running 4.1.2 jellybean, while I know there is 4.4 and speculation for 5.0 on the s3. This is a great way to save money but not stay up do date on software

    • javelinanddart
      March 21, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      Go to XDA, do a quick search and find something you like. #uptodateandroid

  21. peter
    March 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    I have the Nexus 6 running on 5.0.1. Based in the UK and my mobile network is O2... I have just looked to see if have the new update but nothing as yet.
    I do find myself getting impatient and have to remind myself that "It will get to me... my turn will come".
    I just wish I was nearer the front of the queue.....

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:30 pm

      Unfortunately the waiting game is all we have. I hope you get your update soon!

  22. Carlos
    March 19, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    I have a ATT galaxy s4...this whole mess is making me think about an iPhone... And yet I do love the customization. Google should take control over this part of the ecosystem. Tell the manufacturers to get rid of right minimise the skins and make this more seamless.

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      I agree and disagree. Some more standardization would be great, but I don't know if forcing upgrades for all devices would be ideal. After all, if I had a 4-year old device that automatically upgraded to 5.0 and buckled under the simplest of tasks, I'd be pretty pissed. It's a hard line for compromise.

    • javelinanddart
      March 21, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      T-Mobile Galaxy S2 with fully working fast lollipop: http://forum.xda-developers.com/galaxy-s2-tmobile/development/rom-aosp-lollipop-preview-t2931716
      The reason Google can't/won't tell manufacturers to get rid of "skins" is explained here in a video by Azrienoch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooqdU6Wq2sk

    • Doc
      March 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      It's a mixed blessing: Android gives you lots of choices, but that also means there's a lot of garbage out there as well. Google started to clean up the bloatware with "Google Play Edition" devices and with Motorola making "best of breed" phones, yet were obstinate in not allowing SD card slots on its own Nexus devices (a deal-breaker for me...why be limited to what came with the device at 10x its value?)
      Google moving features out of the ROM (Google Keyboard, Google Now, etc.) is helping, but Google has to things down further to get rid of the real OS bloat.

  23. javelinanddart
    March 19, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I have like 5 devices:
    HTC One S: Android 5.0.2
    Samsung Galaxy S4: 5.0.1
    Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G: 4.4.4
    Samsung Galaxy Dart: 2.2.2
    Garminasus Garminfone: 2.1

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:28 pm

      Wow, nice lineup. Do you still use all of them? Or have they all been benched except for the HTC One S? I couldn't imagine using 5 mobile devices, lol.

    • javelinanddart
      March 21, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      I use the Galaxy S4 as my main phone and I'm giving my One S to my aunt
      Garminfone is probably permanently benched as it's on Android 2.1 (no Google Play Store!) and I can't do any development work for it because Garmin apparently removed some code necessary for a custom recovery
      The Samsung Dart is temporarily benched till I get summer break to try to develop for it but I use it just to try to recall how I lived with it as my only phone for 3 years
      The Galaxy S Blaze I actively use but I also plan to develop for it this summer (I have ambitious plans)
      By develop I mean getting a fully working Android L for the Blaze and a Linux 3.4 Kernel (it has 3.0 atm) and a fully working GB, ICS, JB, and KK for the Dart and a Linux 3.0 Kernel (it has 2.6.32.x atm)
      I also want to port TWRP to both
      I highly doubt I will get it FULLY working but people have done it for similar devices so I want to try
      My Galaxy S4 kind of has to be stable as I don't have enough time to mess around with it like I did with my One S: http://forum.xda-developers.com/htc-one-s/development/kernel-frosted-kernel-javelinanddart-t3031529 (I made it)

  24. Doc
    March 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    It's because Android, like iOS, was designed as a monolithic "ROM" (hidden partition) on devices, rather than a modular OS that can be updated like Windows or OS X. I've got two devices (phone and tablet) that are still susceptible to HeartBleed because there's no way to just run an app that will disable OpenSSL HeartBeat (or just upgrade the OpenSSL libraries to a safe version), something that's easy to do on Windows - a little 20k-30k patch would do it.
    My devices are rooted; I could do the patch if someone trustworthy would supply it.

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:27 pm

      Interesting that you compared Android to Windows and OS X. Do you know if iOS is also monolithic in design? If not, then it might actually be an interesting talking point.

    • javelinanddart
      March 21, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Android is becoming more and more modular which each release, look at how OEMs use Delta Updates rather than full ROM updates for small bug fixes. For example, Webview is now an app in the Play Store, and in the Android 2.x days, the kernel used to be paired with the framwork, but now it's not. Another thing is there are somethings (like the runtime) that are so deeply integrated, that you can't "just update" you have to update everything that depends on it. Another thing is, once the bugs are fixed, the OEMs have to do a lot of work to push out the updates which HTC has (very nicely) explains: http://www.htc.com/us/go/htc-software-updates-process/

      We don't quite know if iOS is monolithic in design do we now? However I do know that iOS system apps usually aren't updated till a major OS release or bug fixes

    • Doc
      March 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Yes, iOS is also a monolithic "ROM," that's why an over-the-air update requires gigs of space to upgrade iOS. AFAIK, Windows Phone is also designed the same way. It's easier to replace the entire partition with a single file than it is to do a single-file replacement, that's why phone OS updates are spaced months (or years) apart, rather than being a "piece-by-piece" replacement, and why Google's started moving parts of Android out of the "ROM."
      It makes sense to put as little into the ROM as possible; why download an update to Chrome and put it on the "user" side of the partition, leaving the "stock" version on the ROM side taking up nearly twice as much space? Why put anything but drivers and the bare essentials in the ROM when you're going to update it from the Play Store anyway?

  25. Arpit Kharbanda
    March 19, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    I'm currently owning a Huawei MediaPad 7 Lite. I don't know why Huawei isn't offering an OTA Update. Its still running Android 4.0.3(Icecream Sandwich).

    • Joel
      March 21, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      The weak specs might indicate that the Mediapad 7 Lite can't handle OS upgrades. If you're still on 4.0.3, I think you may have reached the end of the line in terms of supported versions. (If anyone knows more about it, please feel free to chime in!)

    • javelinanddart
      March 21, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      It has very vague specs lol "1.2GHz Cortex A8 Processor"
      But I've seen older devices handle KK just fine (Samsung Galaxy Mini), it's more that Huawei and it's software engineers are either too lazy to update the drivers and stuff (because JB uses a new memory allocator which means a lot of work has to be done with that and JB typically uses a Linux 3.4 Kernel in my experience) or they're too greedy so they want you to buy new devices

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