EU wants OEMs to support phones with 3 years of OS updates and 5 years of security updates

Ashwin
Sep 7, 2022
Mobile Computing
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19

The European Union is working on new laws that could enforce OEMs to offer long-term software support for phones. A draft of the proposed requirements can be found on the EU's website.

EU wants OEMs to support phones with 3 years of OS updates and 5 years of security updates
EU wants OEMs to support phones with 3 years of OS updates

The new rule will require phone manufactures to deliver 3 years of operating system updates (functionality updates) and 5 years of security updates. They will need to provide security updates within 2 months after the public release of a security patch.

The draft for the law states that a software update should not result in the deterioration of the battery's capacity, i.e. it should not be lesser than what it was rated for in the standard tests. If the user chooses to reject an update, the performance of the device should remain unaffected. The proposed requirements also ask manufacturer's should provide spare parts for cameras, batteries, displays, etc., for at least 5 years, to make the phones easily repairable.

The draft points out that many people abandon their devices prematurely, and that the phones are not recycled. In order to reduce such e-waste, the EU says that phone batteries need to be at least 83 % of the rated capacity even after 500 full charge cycles.

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References: Ars Technica, Android Authority

The EU has also told phone manufacturers to use USB Type-C as the universal charging port on their devices, which means Apple's iPhone will have to comply with the rule. The European Union has passed another law, the Digital Markets Act, that could enforce Apple to allow installation of iOS apps from third-party sources.

Apple updates its iPhones for several years, the iPhone 7 for example, received 5 years of OS updates (from iOS 10 in 2016 to iOS 15 in 2021), and continues to receive security updates to this day.

Android, on the other hand, is a mess. Many OEMs choose to add their own custom skin over AOSP, often fine-tuning the operating system with useful features. However, this usually comes at a cost, in terms of performance and sometimes the user's privacy (ads, trackers, etc.)  Android phones have evolved over the years in terms of hardware, they have better screens, faster storage, processors, optical sensors (cameras), etc. But when it comes to software updates, the situation is quite laughable. Hundreds and thousands of new Android phones are announced every year, but a very small percentage of these receive proper OS updates.

Earlier this year, Samsung announced that it would deliver 4 years of OS upgrades and 5 years of security updates to its Galaxy S series, Z series and A series phones and tablets. This luxury is not extended to its mid-range and lower-tier phones. Google provides three years of OS updates, and 5 years of security updates for its Pixel phones.

The rest of the OEMs treat their devices in an unorthodox fashion, with a few companies opting to support their phones for a year or two before abandoning them, while some manufacturers only provide security updates for their phones.

This is, in my opinion, the problem. Google owns Android, and it needs to set a better example by extending software support for its devices for as long as possible. It has a finite number of devices, like Apple and its iPhones. And since it has started implementing custom chipsets, i.e. Google Tensor, on its Pixel phones, surely it can do better than just three years of OS updates.

There are other factors that affect a manufacturer's ability to update an Android OS version. Normally, OEMs provide OS updates for up to 3 years since the launch of a chip. Every time Google releases a major version of Android, OEMs have to update the framework to make their chipsets support the new OS and APIs. This includes drivers required to run the software, without which a phone will become unusable. If you're interested in the technical details, I recommend reading Mishaal Rahman's write-up about Google Requirements Freeze.

Imagine if Intel and AMD didn't provide driver updates when new versions of Windows were released, many computers won't be able to run the OS, and hence can't be updated. The Android situation is sort of similar. But then, how are custom ROM developers able to release OS updates when OEMs cannot? They update the kernel source code in order to use the drivers from older operating systems or drivers from other devices with the same chipset, to make them function with newer versions.

I've been using Android phones for about 12 years. I always make it a point to unlock my mobile's bootloader and flash a custom ROM for the best experience, at least in terms of OS updates and to get rid of bloatware. But, that's a hack isn't it, a workaround, and not everyone is going to be prepared or willing to jump through these hoops. OEMs need to provide a proper solution, which is exactly what EU's new rule could help with.

If EU lawmakers enforce the rule to make OEMs support phones for several years, things could change for the good. But it may have a downside too. If people hold onto to their phones for longer, instead of upgrading to newer models, this will result in fewer units being sold. Fewer sales means less profit, and companies will have to compensate for this differently. They could increase the prices of phones to make it feasible for supporting devices in the long term.

Summary
EU wants OEMs to support phones with 3 years of OS updates and 5 years of security updates
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EU wants OEMs to support phones with 3 years of OS updates and 5 years of security updates
Description
The European Union is preparing a law to make OEMs support their phones with 3 years of OS updates and 5 years of security updates.
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Ghacks Technology News
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Comments

  1. ilev said on September 7, 2022 at 6:49 am
    Reply

    “The EU has also told phone manufacturers to use USB Type-C as the universal charging port on their devices, which means Apple’s iPhone will have to comply with the rule. ”

    Should Apple comply with the new updates law too, with 3 years of OS updates and 5 years of security updates instead of 7 years of updates support ?

    1. Iron Heart said on September 7, 2022 at 6:54 am
      Reply

      @ilev

      It’s a minimum requirement. If Apple wants to support phones longer, they can.

  2. Iron Heart said on September 7, 2022 at 6:57 am
    Reply

    Google Pixel smartphones already meet this requirement. They can run GrapheneOS, the arguably most private and most secure mobile OS. Anyone seeking privacy from Google should check it out.

    https://grapheneos.org/

    1. Yash said on September 7, 2022 at 1:28 pm
      Reply

      Of course Pixel smartphones meet this requirement as they are made by same company. Now if they had been providing Apple level support that would’ve been better.

    2. anona said on September 7, 2022 at 2:25 pm
      Reply

      Buying Google hardware to get away from Google software is a non-starter for me.

      At least CalyxOS (which, as many people say, is not as good as GrapheneOS) supports some Oneplus phones and the Fairphone 4. These phones also support relocking the bootloader which Graphene devs cite as a reason to only support Pixel phones.

      However, right now I’ve set my eyes on the Asus Zenfone 9 with LineageOS+microG due to its nice compact size.

      1. Iron Heart said on September 7, 2022 at 3:48 pm
        Reply

        @anona

        > Buying Google hardware to get away from Google software is a non-starter for me.

        I buy refurbished and in mint condition, in order to not support them financially.

        > LineageOS+microG

        LineageOS still connects to Google for some functionality, look at this study: https://www.scss.tcd.ie/doug.leith/Android_privacy_report.pdf

        LineageOS has various Google functionality removed but is still not at 0 connections to Google. The only Custom ROMs that don’t need to connect to Google at all are /e/ OS and GrapheneOS (GrapheneOS is not part of the study above, but you can infer it still from their documentation).

        I specifically mentioned GrapheneOS not only because its security and privacy is currently best, but also because their WebUSB install method is highly accessible even for non-techie people. It’s just my personal recommendation, but yes, it’s indeed limited to Pixels.

  3. Artem S. Tashkinov said on September 7, 2022 at 11:47 am
    Reply

    Plus a million, though I’d mandate security updates for six-seven years.

    People now stick to their phones for far longer than e.g. 5-10 years ago.

  4. allen said on September 7, 2022 at 12:14 pm
    Reply

    Government overreach. Apparently the EU politicians think they’re in the wrong business and want to run everyone else’s.

    1. TelV said on September 7, 2022 at 12:39 pm
      Reply

      I’ll be more than happy to let government run my phone if it’s to my advantage. However, they’d need to comply with GDPR in the process.

    2. Peterc said on September 7, 2022 at 8:24 pm
      Reply

      @allen:

      On the other hand, some of us believe that people have the right to collectively protect themselves from deliberately engineered artificial obsolescence (= consumer protection), against groundwater contamination from unnecessary increases in electronic waste (= environmental and health protection), and to protect Central African people from being slaughtered in wars over mining rights to rare-earth minerals, which are fueled to a significant extent by the aforementioned deliberately engineered artificial obsolesence (= war and genocide prevention). That’s what the “government overreach” is for.

      Having the right and effective ability to repair electronic devices to the extent practicable is another key building block to achieving the above goals, but it’s apparently not part of this particular draft directive.

      (Never heard of Central African “mining wars”? By some accounts, they have resulted in the worst genocides since World War II, but you probably wouldn’t know much about them if you get your news from outlets that receive substantial advertising or underwriting revenues from electronics and related high-tech businesses. I’ll be charitable and assume that that’s the case for you.)

      And by the way, if Apple can do 5 years of OS updates and 7 years of security updates, that seems like a good minimum benchmark to me.

    3. foul-paly said on September 9, 2022 at 4:09 pm
      Reply

      @allen

      > Government overreach. Apparently the EU politicians think they’re in the wrong business and want to run everyone else’s.

      Oh, poor Billion/Trillion dollar corporations being bullied by government zealots who are finally laying the law to benefit consumers in a very almost meaningless manner.

      Consider that out of all the users only a very small percentage doesn’t fall for the planned obsolesce conspiracy fact, the rest will be renewing contracts every two years to get newer phones.

      Shame the laws and lawmakers aren’t tougher on these corporations who make billions of gathering and selling your data.

      You must work for Google or similar evil corp.

      Enjoy your ignorance.

  5. John G. said on September 7, 2022 at 1:00 pm
    Reply

    Amazing nonsense, I have a Samsung smartphone and I am waiting since eight months the Android 12 update that were planning to be released at January 2022. Everytime I read the Samsung news, it always says next month, next month, and it’s september nowadays. Words don’t worth a penny. Thanks for the article! :]

    1. Peterc said on September 7, 2022 at 8:37 pm
      Reply

      @John G.: My Google Pixel 6 got updated to Android 13 earlier this week. (I’m not remotely a “smartphone guy.” My previous phone broke, I tried to repair it and failed, and I needed a replacement phone relatively fast. That said, one of the reasons I opted for a Pixel was the promise of relatively prompt updates for five years. I just have to try not to break it.)

  6. Anonymous said on September 7, 2022 at 1:57 pm
    Reply

    Good. It’s past time that everyone called out these big tech companies for their deception. Nobody requires a new phone every year. It’s a waste of money and resources. All of these businesses make environmental commitments. They’re all falsehoods.

  7. anona said on September 7, 2022 at 2:27 pm
    Reply

    Or…. enforce open hardware so that any OS can run on these phones and use all of the pieces (camera, fingerprint scanner, baseband, …).

    Then you can install something like GNU/Linux or even Sculpt OS on your smartphone.

    1. Peterc said on September 7, 2022 at 8:57 pm
      Reply

      @anona: Two thumbs up for your proposal.

    2. foul-paly said on September 9, 2022 at 4:11 pm
      Reply

      Yes, enforcing opensource after they stop supporting the devices xyz not just phones they should be forced to release the drivers/SoC’ssource code under GPL.

      Now that will be the day we finally get what we deserve.

  8. Sebas said on September 7, 2022 at 3:01 pm
    Reply

    As a European I am fiercely against a big uber EU meddling with the politics of the associated countries. But this is certainly sound law making. They already are doing measures against Google and Facebook, giving them big fines, well, not big for Googlefacebook, but they do something against them anyway.

  9. AAA said on September 9, 2022 at 4:37 am
    Reply

    This is great! We need to put an end to this jump onto the bandwagon of getting the latest phone when in fact 95% of these early adopters have no clue what their phone is capable of, and whether or not they should use the new features and technology. There is so much waste and unnecessary technological gap created.

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