Fairphone blames Qualcomm for lack of long-term software support. What's it all about?

  1. YRJ
    The Lab - OnePlus 7T Reviewer; Community Hero 2020 Mar 29, 2021

    YRJ , Mar 29, 2021 :

    Hello everyone,

    If there’s one thing we love more than software updates, it's more frequent updates for longer. And with Apple making it seem like a piece of cake, still supporting devices launched back in 2015, it has left several Android users wondering why 4+ years of software maintenance schedule is such a big ask?

    Well, it shouldn’t be, but things aren’t exactly black and white. Allow me to explain.

    Recently, Fairphone – the modular smartphone maker – released Android 9.0 for the Fairphone 2. And while you may think that Android 9 in March 2021 isn’t a big deal it is worth noting that the Fairphone 2 was launched in 2015 initially running Android 5/Lollipop. With Android 9 now rolling out, Fairphone has officially supported the FP2 for 5 years, having it run 5 major versions of Android and THAT IS a big deal!

    In a world where a 3-year software maintenance schedule is the norm (2 years of OS updates and 1 year of extended security updates), Fairphone has managed to support its device for 5 full years. Now you’re probably thinking if a company as small as Fairphone can do it, anyone can, right? Uhmm… it’s not that easy. And I'm not saying it, Fairphone is. They defined the road to Android 9 as “a challenging one!”

    When Fairphone announced Android 9 for the FP2, the company also released a video that detailed how they achieved this. The company believes that by keeping the phone’s software up-to-date, they can influence consumers to stick to their old phones for longer, more than the current trend of 2-3 years, thereby helping contribute to a more sustainable environment.

    The company also shed light on the global e-waste crisis partly caused by discarded smartphones that have reached alarming numbers. With only 15% of smartphones being reused/recycled, on average, 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated every year. To help reduce the impact and set an example for the industry, the company outlined why software updates are essential to increase the longevity of the product.

    To learn how Fairphone achieved this feat and why other OEMs won’t probably be able to, we first need to understand how software updates work?

    This is a screenshot from Fairphone’s video in which they announced Android 9 for FP2. Shown below are various stages through which software passes before it arrives as an OTA on your phone.

    Source: Fairphone
    Fairphone 2 arrived with a Snapdragon 801, I know with the 888 being the new kid, it might sound obsolete and it rightly is, as all devices which had the 801 reached EOL with the chipset manufacturer stopping support since Android 6. How does that matter, you ask? Well, look again at the image above.

    Android is released by Google through AOSP (Android open source project), companies that manufacture SoC’s (Qualcomm) then take this code and modify it so it can work on their chips. Next, smartphone manufacturers take this code from companies like Snapdragon and modify it even further, adding support for hardware and accessories, to ensure it can run smoothly on the newest smartphones. It passes through several stages, being rigorously tested, think of it like a waterfall model and you're at the bottom of it (im)patiently waiting for Android X!

    So as you can probably conclude, the only thing that's between OEMs and Android is well the chipset manufacturer. In this case, Qualcomm.

    So, how did Fairphone work around it?

    Karsten Tausche – Fairphone’s software engineer – explained in the video that they worked with Lineage OS, Android community’s biggest custom ROM project, to bring to its users Android Pie!

    Similar to how Google and Qualcomm work on AOSP builds, lineage to builds Android for specific devices. But with Qualcomm being the only company with full access to proprietary code and hardware documentation, an unofficial aftermarket ROM fails to deliver the same polished/smooth experience that you’re accustomed to with official releases.
    Still, since Lineage is usually a door that users knock on when OEMs mark devices as EOL, it isn’t much of a hassle.

    However, since this is an official release from Fairphone this is bound to be much more polished. Karsten also stated that the software has received Google's approval after having passed over 480,000 “complex” tests of Google’s Compatibility test suite, so one can be sure that there won't be major issues.

    Similarly, Fairphone says it will also support the FP3/3+ by giving it another major update after updating it to Android 11 later this year, right after Qualcomm suspends support for the 632 SoC. Seems like they will join hands with Lineage again.

    While providing timely software updates do seem to be a very complex process right now, due to several stakeholders in the chain, there is hope that things will get better. Late last year, Qualcomm announced that it will support its chipsets for three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates moving forward. So ultimately, it’s the chipset manufacturer who has the final say in how many years of software updates you will get on your phone. Of course, OEMs still need to release working OTAs for the schedule to work but this is a good start.

    On the bright side, updates are rolling out faster too, with Android 11 showing the fastest adoption rate ever. All said and done, Android OEMs are far behind when compared to Apple’s update schedule of 5 years of major OS updates and 7 years of security updates, but as I said already things aren't exactly black and white. However, Android is slowly picking up its pace and that is a good thing.

  2. KaranRIyer
    KitKat Mar 29, 2021

    KaranRIyer , Mar 29, 2021 :
    On the bright side, a user can use the phone more time, so i feel evry OEM should adopt the policy of providing atleast 5 years of software updates. Which can also be their selling point its a entirely win win situation..

    OnePlus Can Take Notes too... Might Increase their customers 🤔

    Btw great thread, thanks for info imposter @YRJ

  3. YRJ
    The Lab - OnePlus 7T Reviewer; Community Hero 2020 Mar 29, 2021

    YRJ , Mar 29, 2021 :
    I think the post highlights exactly why not all OEMs can do this. :p

    jainm, Kenox80, Dinesh_T and 18 others like this.
  4. sumitMZ007
    Jelly Bean Mar 29, 2021

    sumitMZ007 , via OnePlus 6 , Mar 29, 2021 :
    4 year software update would be great ,since in 4 years hardware takes giant leap in performance! E-waste is going to keep on increasing in future if companies keep on giving things in different boxes!

    Kenox80, Dinesh_T, rHITkM. and 10 others like this.

  5. #6
  6. SJBoss
    Lollipop Mar 29, 2021

    SJBoss , Mar 29, 2021 :
    It just highlights why they won't do it, they can do it, but they won't partially because of these reasons and the other being money.

    ljulien, LeptitLoS, the_o2 and 13 others like this.
  7. KaranRIyer
    KitKat Mar 29, 2021

    KaranRIyer , Mar 29, 2021 :

  8. Dr_Mridul
    Gingerbread Mar 29, 2021

  9. yash00012
    Gingerbread Mar 29, 2021

    Adesh.sanmukh and northbay5566 like this.
    Cupcake Mar 29, 2021

    Q1601013282001 and Adesh.sanmukh like this.
  11. YRJ
    The Lab - OnePlus 7T Reviewer; Community Hero 2020 Mar 29, 2021

    YRJ , Mar 29, 2021 :
    Maybe a few years down the line, yes.

  12. Swejuggalo
    OnePlus 9 Series Expert Community Expert Mar 29, 2021

    Swejuggalo , via OnePlus 8 Pro , Mar 29, 2021 :
    People sometimes look at Apple and then Android and wonder why not all flagship Android devices matches the software support like Apple do. This post of yours might make some stop wondering and finally understand the problems behind the differance.

    Auristic, YRJ, O1602919667561 and 8 others like this.
  13. J.e.F
    Froyo Mar 29, 2021

    J.e.F , via OnePlus 5T , Mar 29, 2021 :
    That is so real.
    Busy switching from 5T to 9 Pro just because of its software support end of life. The phone is perfectly working 😥 (and I can't decide what to do with it, just don't want to get only 60€ from OP for it).

    YRJ and Adesh.sanmukh like this.
  14. NoviceAide
    Gingerbread Mar 29, 2021

    YRJ and Adesh.sanmukh like this.
  15. sfomin
    Nougat Mar 29, 2021

    Auristic, YRJ, the_o2 and 5 others like this.
  16. Dresa91
    User of the Year 2016; Most Active User 2020 Mar 29, 2021

    Dresa91 , Mar 29, 2021 :
    Thank you @YRJ for this thread and this important topic:)
    I just read about this update on the last weekend.
    But exactly this update shows where the problem is with Android at the moment:
    The chip manufacturers do not want long support times. They would rather earn money.

    Fairphone created Android 9 for the Fairphone on its own - without Qualcomm's insinuation.
    That is why it took so long.
    I find that impressive.

    You don't have that problem with Apple. Apple builds its own chips.
    Now, if Google also makes its own chips, it will change the Android market: https://www.computerworld.com/article/3591239/google-pixel-chips.html

    Auristic, YRJ, G_plusone and 7 others like this.
  17. J.e.F
    Froyo Mar 29, 2021

    J.e.F , via OnePlus 5T , Mar 29, 2021 :
    Right, it must be more expensive to buy short lasting equipment than long term supported ones.
    Or have kind of tax incentives for reconditioned stuff.
    Regulation is a topic as such I confess.

    Also thinking about how much are we willing to pay for a longer lasting phone? And/or how to spread the cost along time?

    Interesting questions, long lasting discussions...

    SJBoss, YRJ and Dresa91 like this.
  18. SRD.
    Lollipop Mar 29, 2021

    SRD. , via OnePlus 7T , Mar 29, 2021 :
    There is a "Vitamin M" in every new product, making a phone more durable / supporting a device for more duration won't earn Vitamin M.

    Make some cosmetic changes and sell them at a high price. That's how it works.
    There are plenty of mid range chips which are manufactured in a year without having that much impact on user experience. I don't know how justified it is.

    That's why Apple is apple and oranges are oranges.