It can’t be a coincidence that news of Google's plan to standardise processors on Android smartphones appeared on the same day that the search giant's developer page revealed that the latest Marshmallow version of its mobile operating system is installed on a mere 0.3% of all active Android handsets.
A report from The Information, citing unnamed sources close to Google, claimed that the search giant is looking to impose its own rules on chipset production.
That means it’ll tell manufacturers what it wants included on a mobile’s processor, from the ability to handle certain camera functions, support for depth sensors and even CPU memory cache.
The reason? Well, there are a few. First up, is unquestionably Apple’s decision to bring chipset design in–house.
Since 2012, when it revealed the A6 chip, Apple has kept tight control over its processors.
The result? Older devices are capable of running newer software better. It means the likes of the iPhone 5 can handle the recently released iOS 9.
To put that into perspective, Google’s Nexus 4, released in the same year as the iPhone 5, does not officially support Android Marshmallow.
And there are plenty of three-year-old Android phones from its partners that won’t be able to handle the new OS either.
Then there’s the fact that Android is, quite frankly, in a state. Those figures which show Marshmallow on a mere 0.3% of phones also have last year’s edition, Lollipop, on just under 26%, and the previous year’s version, KitKat, on 38%.
Users either aren’t upgrading, or, what seems a lot more likely, they can’t.
Android’s open nature means this was always going to be an issue from the start.
Google has no control over when manufacturers and networks allow devices to be updated, but you can be sure it suffers when its services become outdated on old phones.
It’s not just a question of keeping up with the Joneses either. Old software is much more vulnerable to attack.
Last week’s news about a virulent strain of malware hitting Android phones shows this.
Google is already making moves in the right direction, promising monthly security patches. But even these need network approval, meaning they will likely arrive late on all but the newest Nexus phones.
That’s why standardising the chipset for Android is essential. It can ensure that updates are rolled out quicker, with less hassle.
It also means Android phones in general are a lot more appealing to consumers who want a uniform experience.
The same sources who revealed Google’s plans claimed that its execs are worried about Apple’s ability to offer a more stable, upgradeable system.
Of course, this is early days. Google has travelled so far down the road of being open and free and easy that convincing partners like Qualcomm to make just one kind of chip for its phones is going to be hard.
But with partners such as Samsung and HTC struggling to sell top–end phones, it’s high time Google started imposing strict rules.
Self–regulation has failed and its consumers who are losing out.