For years, the Android ecosystem has made updating the OS of a device seem like an impossible task. Some of Android’s biggest OEMs take anywhere from three to six months to update their flagship phone, and this is the best support they offer—many devices do not get updated at all. Consider that Android 8.0 Oreo is about a year old now and has shipped on a whopping 12 percent of the Android active install base. The terrible state of Android updates has led some people to call Android a “toxic hellstew of vulnerabilities” due to all the devices running old software.
Google has been hard at work addressing this with Project Treble, an initiative in Android 8.0 Oreo that modularized the OS away from the hardware, leading to an easier-to-update Android. It has been a boon for the custom ROM scene, where, for the first time, developers have been able to make generic builds of Android that work across multiple devices from different manufacturers. But the ways in which Treble would affect the vast majority of Android customers on official builds have been a big unknown.
With Android 9 giving these Android 8 Project Treble phones a major update to apply, we now have our first real-world test of Project Treble. While several phones took part in the beta test, Essential has come through as the winner of the Android 9 update race. The Essential Phone is the first ever non-Google phone to ship a major Android update on day one of a new Android release.
Essential has a leg-up on the competition by shipping a phone with stock Android, which means it doesn’t have a ton of custom software tweaks integrated into the core of Android. A company with a heavy skin like Samsung or LG has a lot more work to do, which should make these companies question if all the “customization” of Android is worth it. Essential has proved that fast, iPhone-style updates are possible on Android, however.
Day-one updates might be normal for any other major operating system, but for Android, it’s a big deal. We’ll have to continue to monitor the situation as more OEMs announce (or don’t announce) their update plans, but so far we’re seeing some signs of improvement.
If any other OEM did this, they would probably be highly recommended to future customers. Essential has seemingly canceled the sequel to the Essential Phone, though, so it’s not clear if there will be any future smartphones to buy from the company. Essential is going out with a bang, at least.