Android Stagefright is just the latest in a long line of arguments as to why Google’s heavily fragmented mobile operating system remains a mess.
The latest malware headline-grabber, Stagefright affects phones via MMS video. Dodgy clips can infect a phone without users even having to open them, with Google Hangouts pre–processing media attachments.
And while Google says those affected are somewhat protected thanks to application sandboxing preventing most of the damage, that’s not stopped it from promising monthly security updates for its Nexus range of phones and tablets.
Phones up to three years old will get the required patch to stop Stagefright in its tracks.
Samsung has said that it is doing the same for its newer Galaxy phones.
Motorola has said that its post–2013 line-up will get a fix, while Google has promised to sort the issues with HTC’s One M7, M8 and M9, LG’s G2, G3 and G4 and Sony’s Xperia Z3, Z4 and Z3 Compact.
That’s at least a move in the right direction. But a major issue with Android has been highlighted with this flaw.
Stagefright has been known to Google since April and yet it’s only now that the best phones are getting the treatment to stop them being infected and users’ data being compromised.
There are so many things wrong with this state of affairs that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Android’s vast number of partners means only the top–end devices seem to be getting the patch, meaning if you bought a budget Android or your phone is a couple of years old, you’re on your own.
Google’s loose relationship with networks and manufacturers also means there is no way it can offer a unified approach to shutting Stagefright down. It needs to hope that manufacturers are willing to rollout their fix as soon as they can.
This gets right to the core of why Android is in desperate need of a uniform approach. With dozens of partners, Google simply cannot control bugs and software failures in the same way Apple does with iOS.
A singular, vanilla Android, devoid of bells and whistles and bloatware, might mean the latest software can make it to more phones, making them more secure in the process.
It does at least seem that mobile-makers are wising up to ensuring updates are rolled out in a timely manner.
Consumers don’t take kindly to having their security compromised and it appears the latest Android updates are making their way to new phones quicker than before.
But is it any wonder that sales of Samsung’s best Galaxy phones are tailing off and Nexus phones appear to struggle while Apple’s iPhone booms.
Cupertino may keep a rigid grip on what you can do with your phone, but at least when Apple sees an issue with iOS, it can patch it across the board without having to speak with partners first.
The time for Android to try and become more stringent with security is now.