back to article Samsung slows smartphone upgrade treadmill with promise to support three Android generations on Galaxies

Samsung has said it will now deliver three generations of Android to many of its smartphones, a significant shift in policy with the potential to shake up the handset market. The company currently supports two major Android upgrades, plus extended security updates, across most of its range. Limiting devices to two of the just …

  1. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Cui bono?

    "The entire mobile phone industry [...] puts buyers on an upgrade treadmill that requires roughly biennial purchases"

    I still use a 12 year old IP65 feature phone with real buttons. The battery is a little tired now, but the phone still works fine. The modern equivalent is half a grand, so I'll be seeking out a replacement battery.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cui bono?

      I've found that once a phone hits 3 or 4 years in age, finding a decent replacement battery can be a chore. Often those batteries have been sitting in storage for years, diminishing their capacity. Other times they're counterfeit packs that begin to fail shortly after the return window closes.

      One thing to keep in mind about a phone as old as yours is that it doesn't support 4G voice. As 2G/3G voice networks are reallocated for 5G in the next few years, you're going to find that your signal quality is going to diminish. You may want to consider any battery replacement as buying time for the inevitable.

    2. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Cui bono?

      ... well apart from Apple.

      IOS 13 ‘current’ back to iPhone 6S 2015 vintage and will only likely fall out of being current with IOS 14 this year IOS13 will be maintained forward for several years too.

      Samsung’s policy still sucks and blows at the same time in comparison.

      Glad similari does not apply to my Samsung American Fridge-Freezer, Washing Machine, Monitors or TV’s (yet).

  2. djstardust

    Meanwhile.....

    It looks like Huawei are having any form of update pulled because of Trump and his idiotic US centric policies.

    The industry is a mess.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Meanwhile.....

      I would suggest that the industry is doing fine, it's Politics and greedy businessmen that are a mess..

  3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Brand management

    Having finally gotten on top of the monthly security updates, this isn't really a hard decision for Samsung. It boosts the image which provides justfication for the premium prices: notice which models are covered. Also, since Google did the work on Project Treble, it's not that hard to do.

  4. MJI Silver badge

    as long as they last

    And their screens do not pop and go purple.

  5. Tony W

    Change is possible - it happened with cars

    It used to be received wisdom that new car sales were largely to companies that would keep the cars for only a few years before selling them. Therefore it didn't matter if cars rusted because it didn't affect sales of new cars - and of course scrapping cars kept the market going. Until a few manufacturers, I think they were Japanese, started giving long no-rust guarantees. Quite quickly it became impossible to sell a car that rusted.

    Of course the difference is that rust is obvious and susceptibility to malware isn't. So it's up to Samsung to buck the trend by making adverts that are actually tell you about the product rather than hitching the brand to an exciting lifestyle.

    And while you're at it, Sammy, how about an easily replaceable battery?

    1. John Jennings Silver badge

      Re: Change is possible - it happened with cars

      I think it was Porsche was the first to offer a 7 year warranty against rust... either Saab or Volvo were next.

      Galvanized metal was used from about 1978.

      the main issue with hot dipped galvanized car body panels is that it cant be welded without giving off really toxic zinc oxide levels. I rebuilt a 60's triumph as a kid, using galvanised metal (old volvo bonnets - boxy but good!) in the floor, and the zinc needed to be completely cleaned off areas of heat.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

    I'll share the usual moan: why do I need a 2018-vintage kit to "pack a punch", when my 8year old, positively ancient phone still makes and receives calls (stronger signal, by the way), plays music and radio, all without junk/spyware hard-baked into it?

    1. Dave K Silver badge

      Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

      I'll go one beyond this, I'm still using a 5-year-old LG G4 as my main phone. I honestly don't really see what "features" I'm missing from newer phones. Yes, it runs quite an old version of Android and I'm careful what I use it for as a result (certainly no online banking or anything), but which OS features from newer versions of Android are "must-haves"? Mine deals with calls/texts, has a great camera, Play store still works and pretty much all apps on there still support the phone (so Firefox, WhatsApp etc. are up-to-date). On top of that, phone performance is still silky smooth and a new battery last year means I still get good battery life as well.

      Laptops now last for years, I really don't get this fad with replacing perfectly serviceable and functional hardware every couple of years just because it is a phone.

      1. juice Silver badge

        Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

        > I'm still using a 5-year-old LG G4 as my main phone. I honestly don't really see what "features" I'm missing from newer phones. Yes, it runs quite an old version of Android and I'm careful what I use it for as a result (certainly no online banking or anything), but which OS features from newer versions of Android are "must-haves"

        I had a G4 for a long while, and was pretty happy with it (as was my housemate, when they got it as a hand-me-down). The main reason I upgraded to an LG V30 was for the camera, which was measurably better (and it came with a wide-angle lens, which is pretty useful).

        Alas, when I then upgraded from the V30 to an S10+ for much the same reason, I didn't really find the photo quality to be measureably better, despite the rave reviews. And so now I think I'll be hanging onto the S10+ until it either meets an unfortunate end or there's a significant technology change.

        > Laptops now last for years, I really don't get this fad with replacing perfectly serviceable and functional hardware every couple of years just because it is a phone.

        True to a degree. I've got two laptops at the minute, both made by Toshiba, but with around a decade age-difference between them. And while I CBA to go double-check the exact specs, they both have 4GB ram, and a dual-core CPU somewhere in the 2Ghz range.

        Admittedly, I've cheated slightly by giving the older machine an SSD drive - and the CPU has more cache - but there's very little to tell between the two from a performance perspective.

        OTOH, the old laptop is roughly twice as thick and twice as heavy as the newer machine. And while I haven't compared the battery life (and it'd be unfair anyway, unless I bought a new battery for the older machine), I suspect the battery life on the newer machine will last longer.

        And the newer machine has a few tricks up it's sleeve, likve being able to stream to a wifi-connected TV. Which was useful when I was on a training course down in the Big Smoke a while back.

        So, yeah. Moore's Law is no more, and older hardware is generally competitive with newer hardware from a performance perspective. But it's not always just about the speed at which electrons whiz around...

    2. juice Silver badge

      Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

      > I'll share the usual moan: why do I need a 2018-vintage kit to "pack a punch", when my 8year old, positively ancient phone still makes and receives calls (stronger signal, by the way), plays music and radio, all without junk/spyware hard-baked into it?

      For better or worse, your use-case is an increasingly small segment of the market.

      Personally, I use my phone for emails, social media, web-browsing, online shopping, photography, e-book reading, torchlight, music and remote control for various media devices around the house.

      And more besides.

      Admittedly, while I could do some of the above stuff on 8-year old phone hardware, unless you've managed to unofficially upgrade the OS in some way, I certainly wouldn't recommend doing anything online with it...

      So, yeah. If you're happy to use the bare minimum of functionality on your phone, then I've no doubt that 8 year old hardware is more than capable. But if you want to use it for anything more complex, then you'll probably need something which was made in the last couple of years, if only because newer models will have had at least some security patches applied...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

        re.

        Personally, I use my phone for emails, social media, web-browsing, online shopping, photography, e-book reading, torchlight, music and remote control for various media devices around the house.

        e-mails: on my laptop / large screen (can't stand small screens and hate typos). I have it setup on my mobile too, but I don't check emails when not at work.

        social media = don't do (the register's the exception)

        web-browsing = as above, why put up with 5inch screen when I can use 32 inch?

        online-shopping = as above

        photography = as above. Oh, you mean taking, not editing. Well, I do have a camera, you know! Do you want to know its name, eh?! Its name is... (...)!

        ebook reading = ebook reader (I use my mobile at times, too much strain though)

        torchlight = yeah, my S2 does that.

        remote control = my 30 year old hifi sits just 4 m away across the room, plus cable's end by the laptop for those "auxiliary" sources, can live with that (bluetooth headphones and old phone do the job elsewhere).

        So yeah, the bare minimum of phone / music / radio player / torch / navigation / diary / calendar / torchlight / etc does work on my "pre-2018 vintage" handset. And a grand or two left, to spend elsewhere.

        p.s. the above point is conservative, I do realize that people want shiny-shiny. I was like that, and I still appreciate gizmos, although I find them somewhat amusing, it's easy to see past their "value" once you filter your "want" through "need". Probably retailers' nightmare, but fortunately for them, a tiny minority.

        1. juice Silver badge

          Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

          Like I said, each to their own. Again - and equally as anecdotally - I use my phone when travelling; one of my preferred hobbies[*] involves long weekend trips to $random cities to do photography and explore the local beer and music scene. Kinda hard dragging a 32" screen with me for that ;)

          Again, though, I'm a bit of an outlier. I still use wired headphones, and have a separate music player (again: travelling and minimising battery drain). When the urge takes me, I'm still blasting things to bits on a 14-year old Xbox 360 plugged into a 10-year old TV, and my main PC is an 8-year old quad-core i7 3770. And I've been reading eBooks since the days of the old toilet-seat Palm PDAs with their 128*128 greyscale screens!

          But I do prefer "best of breed" for my mobile phone. Albeit (as mentioned above) the law of diminishing returns has now kicked in and there's currently little or no point in upgrading from a functional perspective.

          > So yeah, the bare minimum of phone / music / radio player / torch / navigation / diary / calendar / torchlight / etc does work on my "pre-2018 vintage" handset. And a grand or two left, to spend elsewhere.

          If you're not fussed about keeping up with the Joneses(eseses?), then you can generally pick up an older flagship model for under £200. E.g. at a glance on the CEX website, the 2017 LG V30 is available from £110, while the 2018 Samsung S9 is available from £180.

          So if you go for a 2-year refresh cycle, then over that 8 year period, you'd be able to have relatively high-end (and supported/patched!) hardware for under £500 - or less, if you keep each handset in good condition and sell it on at the end...

          Certainly, that's going to be my approach going forward, unless there's a radical improvement in camera technology.

          Though, again: each to their own :)

          [*] Admittedly, not so much at present!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

      Yup - my Samsung S8 still performing perfectly fine as a smart phone.

      Samsung (and the article) are right. When the S9 or S10 came out, I was just "meh".

      There isn't much over the models at all - other manufacturers are in the same problem - Apple and Huawei.

      I can't see my wife upgrading from her Huawei P20 in any time soon - especially with the loss of Google services.

      Saying that, if someone developed a waterproof phone that had a headphone socket, frequent Android updates (and security updates), plenty of storage, a good camera, and a 4-5 day battery life it would fly off the shelves.

    4. Eecahmap

      Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

      VoLTE (another upgrade treadmill)?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

        Most of the flagship phones from 2018 supported 4G voice, but I believe that many discount models still did not.

    5. John Jennings Silver badge

      Re: Who needs a new phone when 2018-vintage kit still packs a punch?

      consider a KaiOS phone when the old one dies or is useless.

      its a sorta 'off the grid' phone - basic browser, not social media and whatnot.

      limitted apps deployed, and no tracking other than carrier logging, which you cant avoid.

      cheap as chips mostly too...

  7. js6898

    Now, if they could just allow the phone to be updated over mobile data instead of mandating wifi then i could actually install their updates.....

  8. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I wonder if Samsung knows of some impending changes which would have mandated they do this in the future?

    Maybe Google changing their Android licensing T&Cs or even some government proposing to pass legislation.

    Of course it could just be Samsung doing a marketing campaign to encourage people to continue buy their phones as opposed to some of the cheaper priced Chinese competition from Oppo and Xiaomi.

  9. jonathan keith Silver badge

    And..?

    Great. Now all the phone manufacturers need to do is end the planned-obsolescence cycle by reintroducing things like user-replaceable batteries and the like.

    I won't be holding my breath, mind you.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    That _is_ good news

    But not enough to make me change for a new phone.

    My A3 suits me fine for what I do with it.

  11. Kevin 243

    Too late for me....

    With my failing S7 dropping out of support for patches I decided to replace it.

    Even looked at an iPhone for the longevity of the support but just couldn't bring myself to pay the Apple tax...

    ....so went with a Xiaomi Note 9S.

    Still has the issue with upgrade cycles but at least I'm not paying through the nose for the 'privilege'.

  12. legless82

    Only 3 Android versions?

    My 2016 vintage Oneplus 3T shipped with Android Marshmallow, and has had OEM upgrades to Nougat, Oreo and Pie while I've had it, and all reasonably soon after Google launched them.

    The updates stopped with Pie, but that's 4 major OS versions it's had support for.

    As it stands, I'm just going to keep using it until it dies, because I've yet to find anything that a new model would do significantly better.

    I even sent it back to Oneplus last year for a screen replacement and new battery, and only paid about £80 for the privilege.

  13. Buzzword

    Competing with Apple

    One of Apple's key appeals is that you can still get the latest OS on a four year old phone. Samsung needs to compete on that feature. Longevity is important when you're dropping £1,000+ on a new phone.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Competing with Apple

      Apple is updating phones as old as the 5S which came out in fall 2013. Samsung has a ways to go to match them.

      1. Quando

        Re: Competing with Apple

        iOS 14 will run on iPhone 6S which will be 5 years old when the OS is released, although it can often be optimistic to try and use it on the lowest supported device.

        On iPad they are going back to the iPad Air 2 from 2014 for iPadOS 14l

        This years macOS drops support for most 2013 machines.

        Until the OS has some underlying feature upgrade it's probably relatively easy to keep a device with a reasonable amount of RAM supported.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Competing with Apple

          Let me be clear, the iPhone 5S/6 are not supported on iOS 13, but Apple has continued making security patches to iOS 12.x. I'm not sure what their long term plans are for continuing to patch iOS 12.x on those older devices that are no longer supported on the latest and greatest OS version, but it may point to an even longer support lifecycle for iOS devices than the 5-6 years that has been traditional.

          I don't really follow the macOS world, but I assume it is similar in that some hardware may not be supported on the latest and greatest release, they will still receive security patches at the version their new feature support ends.

          The security patches are what people really care about as far as using a 5+ year old device. Sure it would be nice to get the latest feature updates from the latest major rev of the OS (assuming your phone/Mac even has the hardware necessary for those features) but you have to draw the line somewhere. If you are still getting security fixes you can still use it confident that it is as safe as a brand new device from that perspective (well, beyond any hardware based/enhanced security features)

          Assuming iOS 14 supports all the same devices iOS 13 does, Apple would not have any reason to keep producing security patches for iOS 13. But hopefully they will keep producing them for iOS 12 for a few more years, and if iOS 15 or 16 is the next to drop some of the oldest hardware that they continue this policy of patching that 'orphan release' for a few years beyond those devices falling off the latest majority version train.

    2. Ilsa Loving

      Re: Competing with Apple

      Came here to say the same thing. I'm using an iphone 7 which still does exactly what I need. I spent a lot of money on that phone, so getting 5+ years of support on it is IMO a completely reasonable expectation.

      I think the new iPhone SE may well be a major catalyst to this. Suddenly there's a phone that's pretty decent, AND gets extended OS support, while still badly undercutting all but the cheapest Android devices.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Competing with Apple

        The original SE was based on the iPhone 5S platform, so it is still receiving security updates for iOS 12.x despite being left behind feature-wise by iOS 13 last fall. I would expect the situation with the SE2 (based on the iPhone 8 platform) to be at least as good.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Competing with Apple

          "The original SE was based on the iPhone 5S platform, so it is still receiving security updates for iOS 12.x despite being left behind feature-wise by iOS 13 last fall."

          Not exactly. The SE was put into the same case as the 5S but includes the internals from the 6S, so it has continued to get support for new versions of IOS including IOS 13 and 14.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Competing with Apple

            Wasn't aware of that, I guess they must tie OS releases to the SoC not the rest of the hardware.

  14. Wade Burchette Silver badge

    A good first start for Sammy

    Next on the list of features every phone manufacturer should implement: Easily replaceable batteries, a 35mm headphone jack, microSD card support, and the ability to remove unwanted pre-installed junk. And if you really want to make me happy, give me the ability to permanently remove Bixby, Ok Google, Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or anything like it.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: A good first start for Sammy

      My recently died phone a few months ago started talking to my car radio and my TV.

      Why was my pocket talking?

    2. RM Myers Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: A good first start for Sammy

      Wade, you must really be a dinosaur. Don't you know this is 2020, where progress means taking away the features we want (easily replaceable batteries, expandable storage, etc.), replacing them with features we don't want (Bixby, preinstalled software you can't remove, folding screens, etc), making diy repairs impossible, charging us more money, and laughing all the way to the bank. You need to suck it up - they're doing it for our own good!

      Progress to the rear, isn't it great.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: A good first start for Sammy

      You can disable Siri in the settings so it will never listen, never react to button presses, never enhance searches, etc. so there's no need to "permanently remove" it if you don't want it.

    4. Colin Wilson 2

      Re: A good first start for Sammy

      "a 35mm headphone jack... "

      I know its probably a typo - but I'm trying to picture that!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not out of goodness of heart, mind.

    Forced by market forces, else why would they not keep their factories chruning and charging premium money? The 2 year upgrade cycle has worked wonders so far, with the faithful doing their bit in emptying their pockets. The chinese competition is hurting, and about time too !

    They are just making a virtue out of necessity !

  16. aidanstevens

    I'm still waiting for a reasonably specced phone that you can use comfortably with one hand.

  17. juice Silver badge

    Um...

    > given that the 2018-vintage Galaxy S9's eight-core CPU at 2.7GHz, 4K-capable 12MP main camera and 5.8-inch 2960 x 1440 screen don't deliver a massively improved experience when compared to this year's models.

    That sounds the wrong way around - surely an older phone shouldn't be delivering a better experience than a newer phone?

    Though I do fully agree with the sentiment - I can see absolutely no functional reasons to "upgrade" my 2019 Samsung S10+, especially since I saw virtually no performance delta between the S10 and the 2017 LG V30 it replaced.

    1. mikeymac

      Re: Um...

      Given that the 2018-vintage Galaxy S9 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the 2020-vintage Galaxy S20 does NOT, I'd say the Galaxy S9 > GalaxyS20. YMMV

      1. juice Silver badge

        Re: Um...

        > Given that the 2018-vintage Galaxy S9 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the 2020-vintage Galaxy S20 does NOT, I'd say the Galaxy S9 > GalaxyS20. YMMV

        Fair ;) TBH, that's part of the reason why I'll probably flip back to LG for my next handset, since they're still including headphone jacks in their flagship models!

  18. Klimt's Beast Would

    Call me cynical...

    ...but other manufacturers have been offering two OS updates and three years of guranteed security updates for a while already. That's why I bought a budget Nokia recently.

    So this is more one-upmanship of a trend already in the making, a smart, pragmatic and PR friendly move from Samsung.

    In the meantime with the consequences of COVID-19, are people going to be spending as usual or holding on to what they have for a little longer?

  19. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Don't hold your breath

    My unlocked S9+ has received maybe 8 monthly updates since 2018, including 2 bad updates that halted future updates until the SIM card was swapped. People familiar with the number of months in a year might notice a problem there.

    The flow of new shovelware, on the other hand, never misses a beat.

  20. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Hold on to it longer

    No sign of an update for my J7

    No sign of me handing any cash over for a new one since its coming up on 3 yrs old theres no sign of the battery quitting yet..

    Lets face it... your mobile is a mature product with not really that much to tell them apart performance wise, go SIM only at the end of 2 years, and wait for the battery to die

  21. D. Evans

    Bixby - not touching it again.

    I have an old Galaxy 8, my wife a Note 10+.

    Both of us have said "never again" to another Samsung device while Bixby can not be disabled and the many Samsung bloatware can not be disabled or removed.

    Not that we expect the bloatware issues to go away with another device but we expect it to be less.

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