Android Q

When will your phone get Android Q? A data-driven upgrade guide

Wondering when the soon-to-launch Android Q software will make its way to your device? Let cold, hard data guide your guess.

Android Q
Google, modified by IDG Comm

With Google's final Android Q beta now out in the wild and the final Q release likely just days away, the question on everyone's mind is: When will my phone get the upgrade?

(Okay, that — and also: Will they actually name the software Queen of Puddings? But that's another discussion for another time. (C'mon, Google. Make it happen.))

The question of "when will it hit me" is an all-too-common query here in the land o' Android — and it's become a frustratingly difficult one to answer. The truth is that after years upon years of missed deadlines and broken promises, most Android manufacturers have just stopped making specific commitments altogether. (Hey, that's one way to handle it, right?) And most of 'em, as I've learned from closely tracking upgrade delivery performance since Android's earliest days, do a pretty shoddy job at getting new software into users' hands.

So what can you expect as Android Q makes its way into the world? The honest answer is that no one can say for sure. What we can do, though, is look to the various device-makers' recent performances with Android upgrades as a general guide to what sorts of timelines seem likely.

Now, let's not kid ourselves: A company's priorities can certainly shift, and the past doesn't necessarily dictate the future. In broad terms, though, most manufacturers tend to be relatively consistent with how much emphasis they place on timely ongoing software support (yes, even with the oft-lauded Project Treble improvements factored in). Looking at a company's recent performance can give you a good overview of how it typically approaches this area — at least in broad terms — and give you the most data-driven and educated guess you're gonna get about when Android Q might realistically reach your device.

So, enough jibber-jabber: Here's the lowdown on how the major Android manufacturers have fared with upgrades for current and previous-gen flagships as of late and what that suggests when it comes to the Android Q release. (Note that this information is all U.S.-specific and based upon when each upgrade first showed up on any broadly-available-in-the-States model of a particular phone.)

Google

Current flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 0 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 0 days
  • Two-year average: 0 days

Previous-gen flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 0 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 0 days
  • Two-year average: 0 days

What this data suggests about the Android Q upgrade

This is a relatively easy one: Even with the occasional delay, Google has always made timely upgrades a priority for its own Pixel (and before that, Nexus) phones. Whether you've got the Pixel 3, Pixel 3a, or Pixel 2, there's a very strong chance you'll get the Q upgrade within a matter of days of its official launch.

The first-gen Pixel is technically out of its promised upgrade window — since that phone came out before Google started providing three full years of OS upgrades to its devices — but given the fact that it has been included in the Q beta program, it's entirely possible it'll end up getting the upgrade around the same time as well.

(Of note: Google typically sends out software "in waves," meaning a subset of users receives the upgrade every day over the course of a few weeks — so it's possible your wait could end up being slightly longer than the bare minimum, even with all other factors seeming equal. But if the past is any indication, the actual rollouts are likely to begin extremely quickly, and it shouldn't take terribly long from that point for them to make their way to everyone.)

HTC

Current flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: Still waiting — 368 days and counting
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 99 days
  • Two-year average: 234 days and counting

Previous-gen flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: Still waiting — 368 days and counting
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 186 days
  • Two-year average: 277 days and counting

What this data suggests about the Android Q upgrade

No two ways around it: HTC's struggling as of late. The once-exemplary Android device-maker has fallen on especially hard times these past years, and it absolutely shows in the company's now-dismal Android upgrade delivery performance.

To wit: HTC still hasn't provided last year's Pie release to U.S.-based owners of its first-gen or previous-gen flagships, 368 days and counting since the software's release. Even when you average that with the previous year's less atrocious (though still perfectly mediocre) performance, the final numbers sure aren't great.

So what can we say? If you've got an HTC phone in your hands, prepare to wait a good long while for Android Q to reach you. Quite honestly, at this point, it'd be a shock if the software were to make its way to your device before the start of next summer.

LG

Current flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 298 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 274 days
  • Two-year average: 286 days

Previous-gen flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 365+ days (only delivered to one out of two co-flagship models as of now)
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 398 days
  • Two-year average: 382+ days

What this data suggests about the Android Q upgrade

Let's not beat around the bush: If you've got an LG phone, you shouldn't hold your breath. And you should probably also question, y'know, why you've got an LG phone — considering the company's painfully clear proclamations that it couldn't care less about post-sales support (despite its laughably misleading marketing to the contrary).

To wit: Past data suggests it'll take LG the better part of a year to get Android Q onto the U.S. versions of its current G- and V-branded flagships (which I've started treating as co-flagships in LG's befuddling device lineup). And as for the previous-gen, 2018-launched flagships? Well, LG took a full year to get the upgrade to its G-branded model and still hasn't gotten the software to owners of its V-branded device (which is why the calculations for the previous-gen flagship performance are a bit complicated, above, as I wasn't able to average the two totals together, like I typically would in this situation).

In short: If you own an LG flagship, good luck. You'll need it.

Motorola (Lenovo)

Current flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 241 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 124 days
  • Two-year average: 183 days

Previous-gen flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 355 days*
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 278 days
  • Two-year average: 317 days*

* Not all models received the upgrade

What this data suggests about the Android Q upgrade

The former king of Android upgrades doesn't exactly scramble with its software rollouts anymore, especially when it comes to previous-gen devices (and like many of the manufacturers in this list, it's actually getting worse over time — despite the presence of Project Treble in this past upgrade cycle). Half a year, give or take, would be a reasonable bet for Android Q timing on the company's current top-line phones, whereas the 2018 flagship is likely to see a nine- to 12- month wait.

And that's assuming Moto doesn't renege on its commitment and screw you over entirely. The asterisk in the previous-gen flagship performance is there because Motorola decided not to deliver Pie to most of its previous-gen Moto Z2 Force phones, despite those phones being well within the standard two-year window for software support. The company's message is simple: Once you've forked over your money, you cannot trust us to continue caring.

OnePlus

Current flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 47 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 138 days
  • Two-year average: 93 days

Previous-gen flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 142 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 91 days
  • Two-year average: 117 days

What this data suggests about the Android Q upgrade

OnePlus tends to do decidedly okay with upgrade deliveries — nothing exemplary, by any stretch of the imagination, but significantly better than everyone else on this list outside of Google. The smart money is on a three-ish-month wait for the most recent OnePlus phone and a touch longer for the previous-gen model, though it's possible the company could pull out all the stops and get Android Q out within a couple of months for its current flagship phone.

Samsung

Current flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 177 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 213 days
  • Two-year average: 195 days

Previous-gen flagship performance

  • Length of time for Android Pie delivery: 233 days
  • Length of time for Android Oreo delivery: 293 days
  • Two-year average: 263 days

What this data suggests about the Android Q upgrade

Samsung has never made timely Android upgrades a priority, and while the company did a bit better with Treble in the mix this last go-round, the difference was pretty modest — and it's very much relative (sorry, but going from "inexcusably slow" to "ever-so-slightly-less inexcusably slow" only means so much). Plus, when you zoom out to an even bigger-picture view, you realize that with Pie, Samsung basically went back to its Nougat level of performance from two years earlier but still failed to meet its level of performance from the previous two years before that. With that in mind, it really seems like we're witnessing typical year-to-year fluctuation more than anything.

So, yeah: Whether you have a current flagship or a previous-gen Galaxy S or Note model, don't be surprised if you end up waiting a solid several months — well over half a year and well into 2020 — to see Android Q in your Galaxy.

Hey, what about all the other Android phones?!

Over time, I've opted to focus my data on flagship phones by the most significant Android manufacturers. Flagship phones are understandably where companies devote the most resources — and, given their pricing, where we as users can reasonably expect the highest levels of post-sales support.

Some midrange phones may get major updates like Android Q eventually, but aside from Google's Pixel 3a — which enjoys an unmatched-in-its-class three-year commitment to super-speedy rollouts — it'll probably be a good ways down the road. With budget-level devices, your expectations should be even lower. If you have a budget-level phone and get the upgrade at all, consider yourself lucky.

And as for manufacturers beyond the players outlined above? In general, the smaller a company is, the more limited its resources will be. It's pretty rare for a little player to deliver an upgrade within the first few months of its release, but some smaller manufacturers do manage to get rollouts en route after several months to a year have gone by.

There are, of course, exceptions. Essential, for instance, generally pushes out updates quite quickly to its single 2017 phone — but the company hasn't released another phone since that one device and may or may not ever do so, so it's hard to treat it as anything more than a limited-impact anomaly for the moment.

Phones that are part of Google's Android One program, meanwhile — like any of the devices made by Nokia — are a whole other can of beans. Those devices are guaranteed to get reasonably timely software updates — not at the level of a Google-made Pixel phone, by any means, but typically with rollouts beginning a few months after a release's launch. If you've got a current Android-One-branded phone, you'll likely see Android Q toward the end of this year. Late November to early December is a reasonable bet to make.

A few final factors to consider

As I mentioned at the start of this story, the data used throughout this analysis is specific to the U.S. Upgrade timing often does vary from country to country, so keep that in mind if you're located elsewhere in our wide, wild world (though by and large, the trends tend to remain relatively constant from one place to another, even if the exact time frames do sometimes differ).

The data also focuses on when each upgrade first reached a flagship model that's readily available in the U.S. — either a carrier-connected model or an unlocked version of the phone, if such a product is sold by the manufacturer and readily available to U.S. consumers. And that brings up another significant point: Carriers are a complicating layer between Android software and you. They regularly add delays and extra variability into the process — another oh-so-fun reality of this realm — so if your phone was purchased through a carrier as opposed to directly from a manufacturer, know that that may affect your delivery time as well.

Last but not least, some critical perspective: On Android in particular, upgrades — while unquestionably still consequential — aren't everything. Google has taken meaningful steps over the past several to make OS-level updates less all-important for the platform. They're a significant part of the picture, but they're also just one part of a much larger puzzle. Consequently, despite the way they're often portrayed, an OS upgrade on Android is not equal in weight to an OS upgrade on iOS.

That being said, if timely and reliable ongoing upgrades are important to you — which they should be — you most certainly can have 'em. Google's own Pixel phones are designed in part to address that demand. The devices receive software updates quickly, frequently, and directly from Google, without any meddling from middlemen along the way. It's a holistic arrangement, and the end result speaks for itself.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. But now, as Android Q gets ready to make its way into the world, you can at least make an educated guess about what to expect with whatever device you've chosen to own.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

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