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

The Fairphone 2 and its many modules.
Enlarge / The Fairphone 2 and its many modules.


Fairphone—the sustainable, modular smartphone firm—remains to be transport updates to the 5-year-old Fairphone 2. The corporate will not win any awards for velocity, however the telephone—which launched in 2015 with Android 5—is now being updated to Android 9.zero. Probably the most attention-grabbing a part of this information is a video from Fairphone detailing the replace course of the corporate went by way of, which gives extra transparency than we usually get from a smartphone producer. To listen to Fairphone inform the story of Android updates, the most important barrier to longer-term help is—shock!—Qualcomm.

Fairphone desires shoppers to maintain their telephones for longer, creating much less e-waste and carbon emissions through modular substitute components which can be simply upgradeable and repairable. An enormous problem for designing a long-lasting telephone like that is software program help. Even when Fairphone needed to help a telephone endlessly, Android software program updates don’t work that approach, and main OS updates usually reply on a relay race of corporations that each one have to hand-off a construct of Android earlier than it reaches your telephone.

We have gone over this earlier than, however let’s do a fast recap of how Android makes it to your smartphone. First, Google releases builds of AOSP (the Android Open Supply Challenge) to everybody. This does not run on a telephone but, although. First, your SoC (System on a Chip) producer (often Qualcomm) has to pay money for it and customise Android for a selected SoC, including drivers and different help. Then, that construct goes to your telephone producer (Fairphone, on this case) which provides help for the remainder of the —issues like cameras, the show, and some other equipment—together with built-in apps and any customized Android pores and skin work that the corporate desires 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 replace will get from a repository to your telephone. First, Google releases code, then Qualcomm provides SoC help, then Fairphone provides help, Google apps, and different customizations, then the replace should move Google’s exams.


As a 5-year-old telephone, the Fairphone 2 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, which is a serious drawback in case you’re making an attempt to do long-term help. Fairphone software program engineer Karsten Tausche defined within the video, “Qualcomm stopped supporting the chipset already, after Android 6, and that made the replace to Android 7 far more tough than, for instance, the replace to Android 6.” Fairphone says it labored across the lack of Qualcomm help because of LineageOS, the Android neighborhood’s greatest customized ROM mission. Similar to how your SoC and producer would formally get AOSP builds prepared for a tool, Lineage additionally builds device-specific, ready-to-boot variations of Android from the supply and releases them to everybody as an aftermarket ROM. Qualcomm is the one firm with full entry to Qualcomm’s proprietary code blogs and documentation, so an unofficial, hacked-together construct often will not attain the extent of polish you get from an official launch with each firm’s help. Lineage usually lives within the realm of aftermarket telephone tinkerers, in order that’s effective.

Fairphone is a Google app licensee, although, and that is an official launch, so there is a greater bar for high quality. Lineage has to move Google’s approval course of, aka the “Compatibility Take a look at Suite,” a battery of exams that ensures producers have constructed Android appropriately. The software program will not have any main compatibility issues with apps, and it’ll adhere to all of Google’s mandated insurance policies for Android. Fairphone nearly appears crucial of Google’s compatibility course of, too, saying it “is getting increasingly complicated” with every new Android launch, and the Android 9 options “480,000” exams. Fairphone wasn’t certain it may ship an official construct of Android 9 till it got here up with options for all of Google’s check necessities.

As for the corporate’s present telephones, the Fairphone three and three+, the corporate says it is planning an Android 11 replace within the second half of this yr. Fairphone says Qualcomm is planning to kill help for the Snapdragon 632 chip that underpins these telephones in July 2021. Fairphone desires to ship “at the least yet one more main Android replace” after Android 11, however that can imply doing one other replace with out Qualcomm’s help.

As at all times with Android, issues will get higher sooner or later. The Fairphone three, as an Android 10 launch telephone, helps Challenge Treble, a serious re-architecting of Android that separates the OS from the help. Treble was constructed to precisely resolve the issue the older Fairphone 2 is having—the separation means an organization may theoretically replace Android while not having help from their chipset vendor.

Right now, Qualcomm guarantees three years of chipset help for main updates, which was pitched as a giant enchancment over the 2 years it used to provide. That’s nonetheless no the place close to so long as Apple, which gives round 5 years of help for an iPhone. Qualcomm beforehand defined to Ars that “The size of time a chipset is supported… is set in collaboration with our prospects” however this is a buyer asking for extra help, and it is not occurring.

Tausche closed the video saying that although the work was tough, Fairphone needed to set an instance. Tausche stated, “We’re proud to indicate the business that, even with our small staff, it is doable to help your telephones longer.”