Ask LH: When Will My Phone Get A Software Update?

Ask LH: When Will My Phone Get A Software Update?

Dear Lifehacker, I have an [insert Android or iPhone of choice] and I’m still running [some older OS version]. When am I going to get an update to [X new operating system version]? Thanks, Everyone On The Internet

Dear Everyone,

OS updates, particularly on Android, have been a complicated affair since the inception of smartphones. While things tend to be a bit simpler in the Apple camp (though not perfect), there are a few cues you can follow to get a general idea of when your phone will receive a new operating system.

Note: We don’t have any insider info and we obviously can’t provide concrete release dates. More often than not, release dates for system updates aren’t known for sure until they’re already coming out. Furthermore, release windows tend to be slow rollouts over a period of days or weeks, so a release date of 16 April still might not arrive for a week. We’ll steer you in the right direction, but there’s always going to be some uncertainty.


Ask LH: When Will My Phone Get A Software Update?

Obviously, Android has a bigger problem with updates than any other platform due to the different models, hardware configurations, and companies involved in the process. Your best source of information is going to be the hardware manufacturer themselves and the carriers. Keep in mind, though, that any promised released dates can change and depending on your phone, you might not always be able to find an answer.

Some manufacturers (Samsung and LG, for example) don’t offer dedicated pages with information on update statuses. You can still keep up with news regarding updates, however, by either following their respective social media accounts (though you’ll also probably get a lot of junk promos), or specialty blogs that post device update information. Our regular smartphone updates column tracks announcements from Australian carriers.

Not everyone can find concrete information on their particular device’s status. However, there a few broad guidelines that, while certainly not a guarantee, you can usually rely on:

  • Phones older than 18 months will be abandoned. In 2011, Google announced that it would work with manufacturers to ensure that phones got updates for at least 18 months after release date. While that didn’t exactly go as planned, it did set some reverse expectations: once your phone is out for longer than 18 months, it’s rare to get an OS update. Note, this is from the initial public release, not the time you bought your handset.
  • Mid-range or low-end phones will get slower (or no) updates. Manufacturers don’t have infinite resources to devote to OS updates so they tend to focus most of their efforts on their high-end, flagship phones. While it’s not a hard, fast rule, if the brand new Galaxy S5 is scheduled to get an update in June, don’t count on your year-old Galaxy Ace Active 4G Touch Plus getting the same update around that same time.

Knowing can help you develop some decent instincts on when you’re likely to get an update (as well as which phones are best if that’s what you want), but ultimately, the big answer is “No one knows until we know.” Don’t let that get you down, though. OS updates aren’t quite the big deal they used to be (most of the time) and some manufacturers are working on removing a few of those pesky roadblocks.


Ask LH: When Will My Phone Get A Software Update?

When it comes to waiting for OS updates, iOS users don’t usually have it quite as bad as Android users in terms of not knowing when the wait will be over (though the wait between actual releases is longer). However, if you want to know when you’re going to get your hands on the new hotness, there are still some patterns you can count on to get an idea of when it’s coming.

Apple historically has announced its newest iOS version at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June every year (this year’s event takes place June 2-6). While the company used to release new iOS versions shortly afterwards, the trend lately has shifted to announcing in June, but releasing later in the year.

There is one caveat if you’re really desperate: the developer program. While going this route costs money ($US99/year), results in a lot of bugs, and is generally not advisable for most normal people, you can sign up to become a developer and get early access to iOS updates. For example, iOS 7 was available to developers last year on the day it was announced, a full 100 days before it was launched to the general public.

It’s always frustrating knowing that there’s a phone out there that has sweet new features you can’t access just yet. Due to the way mobile handsets are updated, there’s not much any of us can do but wait for new versions to roll out. Fortunately, with a few years of history to divine patterns from, we can at least know where to look for signs that it’s coming.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • No mention of Windows Phone? the developer preview for WP8.1 went live the other day, and is accessible to anyone as you can sign up to an app studio account for free.

    And it appears that any WP8 device can run it.

  • A lot of people think Windows Phone is irrelevant. Personally I think it’s their loss.

    I loaded the update on my Lumia 920 last night, super easy and I’m really impressed with it. Cortana is actually really cool, and I love the changes they’ve made to the start screen with regards to customisation.

  • In summary, if you want official updates for any semi-reasonable amount of time buy a Nexus or an iPhone.
    (Note: leaving out Windows Phone not because it doesn’t get updates – although Windows Phone does have a great history of throwing people under the bus with updates like 7.5 to 8 even on very recent devices – but because I don’t know what they are like these days)

    Otherwise… well, good luck.

  • The article missed the following points:
    1. Android: If you want quick Android updates, get a Nexus device. Other Android devices, good luck. At least your not forced to upgrade to new versions of Android though (although I’ve never heard of a new Android version slowing down older Nexus devices).
    2. iOS: Apple (from what I understand) forces you to upgrade your device on new OS updates regardless how old your phone is (as long as its supported by the new OS version) and regardless if you want to. This can turn your device into a shiny paperweight or hand-me-down very fast.

    • We still have an iPhone4 running 5.1.1 if you don’t want to update you just don’t hit the update button.

  • The above article applies mostly to “official” updates. Which usually are far and few between on Android devices leaving most as orphans very quickly. The larger manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, LG, etc) are more likely to release OS upgrades than the small players simply due to the time and resources involved in development and testing. But even then, don’t expect more than a couple of increments. It makes sense for them to abandon older hardware as a mechanism to incentivise our next purchase.

    But unofficially, it’s often possible to update to the latest Android version through a 3rd party ROM like those released by CyanogenMod or other AOSP projects. Again, it helps to have a popular device to increase the likelihood of having a decent developer pool. For example, I have an almost 5 year old HTC HD2 running KitKat … that’s more up-to-date than my brand-new Note which is stuck on JB and still waiting for Samsung to pull their finger out.

    • Although this is true, (non-Nexus) manufacturers are working harder and harder to make is not true by improving things like bootloader locking, and I imagine dm-verity will be showing up on these devices soon as well.
      (Note: Sony is a great exception to this. They give you a legitimate and easy means to unlock the bootloader, and are fairly supportive of the dev community as well)

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