Fairphone suggests Qualcomm is the biggest barrier to long-term Android support

Enlarge / The Fairphone 2 and its lots of modules.


Fairphone—the sustainable, modular smartphone company—is nonetheless delivery updates to the 5-12 months-old Fairphone 2. The enterprise will not likely acquire any awards for velocity, but the phone—which launched in 2015 with Android 5—is now currently being current to Android 9.. The most interesting section of this information is a video from Fairphone detailing the update approach the organization went via, which offers a lot more transparency than we normally get from a smartphone manufacturer. To hear Fairphone tell the tale of Android updates, the most important barrier to more time-term assistance is—surprise!—Qualcomm.

Fairphone needs consumers to continue to keep their phones for longer, making less e-squander and carbon emissions by means of modular substitution sections that are quickly upgradeable and repairable. A big challenge for coming up with a extensive-long lasting mobile phone like this is application aid. Even if Fairphone needed to guidance a cellular phone permanently, Android computer software updates do not perform that way, and major OS updates generally reply on a relay race of providers that all want to hand-off a build of Android just before it reaches your phone.

We have long gone around this in advance of, but let us do a rapid recap of how Android will make it to your smartphone. Very first, Google releases builds of AOSP (the Android Open up Supply Task) to anyone. This does not operate on a cellular phone nevertheless, however. Initial, your SoC (Procedure on a Chip) producer (generally Qualcomm) has to get keep of it and personalize Android for a unique SoC, including motorists and other hardware assist. Then, that develop goes to your cellular phone manufacturer (Fairphone, in this circumstance) which provides support for the rest of the hardware—things like cameras, the show, and any other accessories—along with constructed-in apps and any tailor made Android pores and skin do the job that the firm wishes to do.

How an Android update gets from a repository to your phone. First, Google releases code, then Qualcomm adds SoC support, then Fairphone adds hardware support, Google apps, and other customizations, then the update must pass Google's tests.
Enlarge / How an Android update receives from a repository to your telephone. Initial, Google releases code, then Qualcomm adds SoC assistance, then Fairphone adds hardware help, Google applications, and other customizations, then the update will have to move Google’s tests.


As a 5-yr-old mobile phone, the Fairphone 2 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, which is a big problem if you’re attempting to do lengthy-time period help. Fairphone software engineer Karsten Tausche stated in the video clip, “Qualcomm stopped supporting the chipset previously, after Android 6, and that designed the update to Android 7 way extra tough than, for illustration, the update to Android 6.” Fairphone states it labored about the deficiency of Qualcomm guidance thanks to LineageOS, the Android community’s largest custom made ROM undertaking. Just like how your SoC and hardware producer would formally get AOSP builds all set for a gadget, Lineage also builds unit-distinct, prepared-to-boot versions of Android from the source and releases them to every person as an aftermarket ROM. Qualcomm is the only enterprise with total accessibility to Qualcomm’s proprietary code weblogs and components documentation, so an unofficial, hacked-jointly make commonly will never attain the stage of polish you get from an official launch with each and every components company’s aid. Lineage ordinarily life in the realm of aftermarket mobile phone tinkerers, so that’s high-quality.

Fairphone is a Google app licensee, although, and this is an official release, so you will find a increased bar for good quality. Lineage has to go Google’s approval process, AKA the “Compatibility Take a look at Suite,” a battery of checks that guarantees producers have designed Android accurately, won’t have any main compatibility problems with applications, and have adhered to all of Google’s mandated policies for Android. Fairphone pretty much would seem crucial of Google’s compatibility method, too, declaring it “is having far more and much more complicated” with each and every new Android release, and the Android 9 options “480,000” assessments. Fairphone was not sure it could ship an formal make of Android 9 till it arrived up with answers for all of Google’s test needs.

As for the firm’s recent telephones, the Fairphone 3 and 3+, the company claims it is really scheduling an Android 11 update in the next 50 percent of this yr. Fairphone suggests Qualcomm is planning to eliminate support for the Snapdragon 632 chip that underpins these telephones in July 2021. Fairphone desires to deliver “at the very least one a lot more significant Android update” following Android 11, but that will suggest performing a different update devoid of Qualcomm’s assist.

As often with Android, issues will get greater in the upcoming. The Fairphone 3, as an Android 10 start mobile phone, supports Challenge Treble, a major re-architecting of Android that separates the OS from the hardware guidance. Treble was developed to precisely clear up the difficulty the older Fairphone 2 is having—the separation implies a organization could theoretically update Android devoid of needing assistance from their chipset seller.

Today, Qualcomm guarantees a few several years of chipset aid for key updates, which was pitched as a significant advancement about the two years it employed to give. That is continue to no the place around as very long as Apple, which gives close to five decades of help for an Iphone. Qualcomm formerly spelled out to Ars that “The length of time a chipset is supported… is established in collaboration with our prospects” but here’s a consumer asking for far more support, and it’s not taking place.

Tausche shut the online video stating that even although the work was tricky, Fairphone preferred to established an case in point. Tausche stated, “We are proud to exhibit the market that, even with our modest group, it truly is doable to help your phones for a longer time.”

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