There’s a major update to the Linux kernel released once every 70 days or so. If you’re using a Linux-based PC that’s probably good news, since you can look forward to new features and improved hardware support pretty frequently.

But if you’re building an Android device, you’re probably going to look for something a bit more stable, which is why Android phones and tablets tend to ship with a Linux LTS (Long Term Support) kernel, which receives 2 years of support.

Even that isn’t really very much though… since it takes a while to develop the software for an Android phone, so that LTS kernel is usually near the end of its support lifecycle by the time a phone ships… which means Google and its hardware and software partners are on the hook for providing support. That’s one of the reasons some phones receive few, if any software updates over time.

Now Long Term Support is being extended from 2 years to 6… which could theoretically mean better long-term support for Android devices.

https://connect.linaro.org/resource/sfo17/sfo17-400k1/

Ars Technica notes that Google’s Iliyan Malchev announced the change during a presentation at the Linaro Connect 2017 conference, and the move was confirmed on Twitter by Linux kernel LTS maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman.

The first LTS kernel to get 6 years of support is Linux kernel 4.4, which is supported by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor.

Assuming it continues to take Google, chip makers, and device makers close to two years to take a device from planning to release, now those devices will received about 4 years of additional support from the Linux community, which means that Google and its partners won’t be on the hook for continuing to maintain kernel updates on its own in order to continue providing security and feature updates.

Malchev says that means instead of offering 1-2 major OS updates, that means device makers could offer up to 4 major updates. In other words, buy an Android O phone, and it may eventually receive updates to Android P, Q, R, and S before it reaches end of life.

Right now you’re lucky if you get one or two updates (there are still phone shipping with Android 6.0 Marshmallow with no signs of an update in sight).

It remains to be seen how this will actually shake out. I suspect it will mean good things for Google Pixel phones. Today Google promises 2 years of OS updates and 3 years of security updates for Pixel phones (with the clock starting on release day). Maybe those numbers will eventually be doubled.

As for third-party phone? I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some phone makers decide that since customer are already used to spending money on a new phone every 2-3 years, there’s little reason to continue updating old devices, even if it is easier.

 

Longer term Linux kernel support is probably good news for custom ROM builders anyway.

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5 replies on “Linux kernel gets longer-term support, could be good new for Android devices”

  1. Let’s not forget that whether or not they want to make the effort of more updates, they actually depend on the chip makers to provide the base OS which they then modify.

  2. I see OEMs such as SONY and Google* actually taking advantage of this.

    However, I doubt this will translate into anything substantial for other OEMs.
    I could see Samsung and LG maybe adding one more update into their schedule.

    However habitual offenders such as Huawei, Oppo, Lenovo, Motorola, Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Sharp, etc etc… will continue to fail providing monthly security updates, as well, as one or less major update.

    Whereas niche players in market like Blackberry, Nokia, OnePlus, and maybe also Xiaomi… they’re a big unknown at the moment. They might continue to support devices as they currently are, or they might extend the period. They probably would love to NOT-support their older devices, and be lazy like the rest of the OEMs, however they use Stock-ish Android, so its not as big of a detriment to continue their support and they have built a small reputation as to being support friendly which they may not want to destroy.

    *HTC may be acquired by Google, and become the OEM to develop Google’s Pixels Watches, Phones, Tablets, TV Boxes, Routers, and Home Assistant Speakers.

  3. That’s nice but when it comes to updates, isn’t the bottleneck the carriers (at least in USA), OEMs and proprietary ARM everything that hardly gets support? I guess this does help the small market for custom ROMs.

    1. Precisely.
      However, those smaller OEMs with Stock Android devices now have one less reason to NOT support their older devices. By getting rid of all these barriers, eventually a few devices and OEMs will emerge which are responsible… and people will recognise them, eventually.

      All the other devices and OEMs will then be left stranded, and it would be 100% clear, that not supporting older devices like iPhones or Nexus was not a technical problem… it would be clear that was a conscious decision made. Once the general masses/ people realise how bad these OEMs are, then we may finally get some change.

      It won’t be fast, but hopefully, we will get there.

  4. Do not most people reliably throw their smartphones in the trash can at the urgings of advertisers of the latest must have model long before six years is up? In fact, is it not the duty of every patriotic capitalist to buy a new model whenever they are released (as promoted on this very web site) to keep the economy growing and the profits flowing? All devices should spontaneously stop working after 11 months and 30 days to enforce conspicuous consumption!

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