This article is more than 1 year old

For all the excitement, Pie may be Android's most minimal makeover yet – thankfully

Less disruptive and accessible, with added Clippy


But the lack of features might be the best thing of all about Android 9 – as it promises to minimise disruption and make the platform itself much more accessible. Android 9 Pie can be rolled out far more rapidly to users than any previous Android. Thanks to architectural changes, seven devices participated in the P beta – not just the usual own-brand Google Nexus/Pixel models. Sony, "Nokia", Vivo, Xiaomi, OnePlus and rapidly imploding Notch pioneer Essential all participated. The latter is already rolling out the finished code.

That addresses Google's biggest problem with the platform – bigger even than EU competition commish Margrethe Vestager pining for forks.

According to the latest stats, just one in eight Android users are using last year's Oreo release, 11 months after Oreo was released. Only 2 per cent are on the December Oreo 8.1 release. More than half of the world's Android users – measured by Google Play install stats – are running software that's three years old, or even older. The iOS world is a world of OTA updates, but the Android world emphatically is not.

One line of argument is that the fragmentation poses a mortal threat to Google's services business, as it can't compete with a much more up-to-date platform, iOS. But I'm not convinced that the threat is so severe.

Firstly, Google now loads so much functionality into the middleware – the GMS binary blob – that platform features don't matter so much. And Google can update these Play Services over the air, via the Google Play Store.

Secondly, every Google service is subsidiary to its main business, which is personal data collection: who you are, what you do, where you do it. You can't activate an Android here without a valid SIM card (traceable) or a valid pre-existing Google account, for example. And Google continues to record your web browsing when you're in porn mode.

Adaptive Brightness in Android P

It's equally obsessive about location data. Google's approach is to collect first then beg for forgiveness later, offering you deletion if you are prepared to spend an hour or two on its data dashboard. So long as these data collection tools are all turned on by default, and turning them off is tedious or impossible, then that core Google business looks pretty safe to me.

Whether OEMs will now adopt OTA updates remains to be seen. Sales of new handsets are crashing in mature markets, so an OTA update that gives the user "a whole new phone" may make them less likely to buy a new one. Really Google is saying to OEMs: we've done our bit, it's up to you, the hardware industry, to save this commoditised, oversaturated business. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like