Google Is Forcing Me to Dump a Perfectly Good Phone

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This is a fascinating and correct perspective:

Not quite three years ago, I bought a Pixel 3, Google’s flagship phone at the time. It has been a good phone. I like that it’s not too big. I dropped it a bunch, but it didn’t break. And the battery life has not noticeably changed since the day I got it.

I think of phones in much the same way I think of refrigerators or stoves. It’s an appliance, something I need but feel no attachment to, and as long as it keeps fulfilling that need, I don’t want to spend money replacing it for no real reason. The Pixel 3 fulfills my needs, so I don’t want to spend $600 on the Pixel 6, which seems to be just another phone that does all the phone things.

But I have to get rid of it because Google has stopped supporting all Pixel 3s. Despite being just three years old, no Pixel 3 will ever receive another official security update. Installing security updates is the one basic thing everyone needs to do for their own digital security. If you don’t even get them, then you’re vulnerable to every security flaw discovered since your last patch. In response to an email asking Google why it stopped supporting the Pixel 3, a Googles spokesperson said, “We find that three years of security and OS updates still provides users with a great experience for their device.”

This has been a problem with Android for as long as Android has existed.

 

Comments (31)

31 responses to “Google Is Forcing Me to Dump a Perfectly Good Phone”

  1. lvthunder

    Wow only three years. I've always kept my phones that long. By then the battery is starting to fail. I know people who keep it longer so I don't think three years is long enough. I wonder what everyone thinks should be the length of time they should be supported. And should that support start when the phone is launched or when they stop selling it. For me, I'm thinking it should be around 5 years.

    • wright_is

      My brother-in-law replaced his Samsung Galaxy S3 mini in 2020, that had a run of over 7 years. He only replaced it, because WhatsApp no longer worked.


      "Normal" people don't understand security updates, they are a pain, because they have to restart their phone each month for no reason. No reboots, no problem!


      I would think 5 years is a minimum for the average user. The lower-end the phone the longer it will probably be used. If you can afford a new flagship every year or 2, you don't worry about the longevity of the phone. If you struggle to scratch together a couple of hundred dollars for a low-end or mid-range phone every 5 or 10 years, you simply can't afford to stay on the patch band wagon.


      A friend of my wife's lives off of hand me down phones. Last year, she received a 4 year old Wiko phone, which originally cost around 200€. She will continue to use that until it stops working or somebody donates her a new phone.

  2. shark47

    "I think of phones in much the same way I think of refrigerators or stoves. It’s an appliance, something I need but feel no attachment to, and as long as it keeps fulfilling that need, I don’t want to spend money replacing it for no real reason."


    This is how I feel about technology as well. I had this happen to me when I bought the Essential phone in 2018. Within two years, it was useless. Obviously, that's not Google's fault, but that's the issue with Android. You have no idea what you're getting. I have switched to a Samsung Galaxy S10 and so far, so good.


    Last year there was a hue and cry because Microsoft didn't support Windows 11 on older processors. Imagine the outcry if they said they'd stop security updates on those PCs as well.


    


  3. geoff

    Android ONE was supposed to fix this.

    A stable, supported version of Android that receives long-term support.


    I see that it now claims "at least 2 years" of support, which frankly, is pathetic.


    As an Android user, I do wonder why I bother with updates at all. The Google-ness is the problem, and that's baked in by design, and can never be removed. I treat my phone as if it has no security.


    Phone updates are for 'stability', in my opinion, not 'security' (which is never an available option). In terms of 'stability', the best update is no update, because they can't break anything.


    It's just a phone. Use it 'till it breaks, then -and not a moment before then- get another one.

    • wright_is

      The monthly updates are usually mainly about security (the current Pixel debacle excepted). Often it is remote code execution flaws, browser hijacking, privilege escalation stuff that is being stopped. Those updates are critical to the safe use and should be installed within a day or two of Google announcing the patches - which Samsung actually got good at with the S20+ I had, they would usually arrive within 2-3 days of Google officially announcing the updates.

  4. j5

    Actually after thinking about this more...I think the root of this problem is us, the consumer. If we stopped demanding newer and shinier every year these companies would stop. We make a conscious choice to purchase these items. Security updates or better hardware, who cares, if consumers would stop buying they'd be forced to support their devices longer, consumers drive the market in the end. Yeah tech companies can artificially create demand or use psychological marketing tricks to make use thing we "needed" to upgrade, but they don't force us to put our credit card #s in the cart, they don't force use to keep up with "leaks and rumors" about new phone models, we do all that. Just like turning the channel off.

  5. minke

    I too think it is crazy spending $1000 on a phone that only gets maybe three years of security updates. My dad's perfect Pixel 3a will see security updates end this May. He hates the idea of changing away from a phone that works perfectly and he understands how everything works. OTOH a lot of people I know have broken phones after a couple of years, or are limping along with cracked screens or backs, wonky charging ports, buttons that stick, water damage, etc. With the way carrier plans are structured in the USA it doesn't make sense for most people to hold onto phones after they've paid all the payments. Trade it in and get a new one and start over again and never have to shell out the big bucks up front. I would guess that is 75% of the market over here. I don't know anyone who doesn't purchase the phone through a carrier on installments.

    • j5

      There's that joke about how we all die still paying a mortgage and a car note...now we can add phone payment. Isn't that just absurd! I really love how the writer of the article compares his phone to a home appliance. We get our home appliances fixed when they have an issue or problem. We normally only replace them when we've had them fixed a couple of times. And come to think of it cellphones cost more than most home appliances!

  6. hrlngrv

    My 2nd phone is a Samsung flip phone which will turn 8 this summer. As long as I don't drop it (the bane of its predecessor), it may outlive me. Phone qua phone, the hardware reached perfection during the 2010s. Everything which will follow is eyewash or following the path to pocket computers, the latter not necessarily a bad thing.


    FWIW, I bought a Chromebook about half a year later. It still works, but it received its last Chrome OS update 2 years ago. I've been too lazy to replace it with Linux. Plus, I'm idly curios to discover how long it'd take for it ti get infected with something nasty. Hasn't so far. [And I'm not foolish enough to use it for ANY e-commerce; OTOH, if some Russian cracks my reddit account, so be it.]

  7. wunderbar

    This falls as much on Qualcomm and support contracts than it does on Google/Samsung/Motoroala/whoever makes Android phones.


    There's a reason that the phones with the longest support period all have the same support period (3 years of OS updates, with one more year of security patches). That reason is that Qualcomm only provides technical support for their processors/SoC's for that period of time.


    That means that after 4 years, Qualcomm stops updating the driver/firmware stack for the processors. This means no "official" support for those processors. Yes, people can try using older versions of drivers, or try to reverse engineer things. That's how we get someone that managed to stick an Android 12 ROM on a Galaxy S2 from 10 years ago.


    It isn't always on Google/Samsung/whoever to provide support. The companies that make the actual physical pieces of the phone also have to play ball, and that's where the big failure is.


    That's why Apple phones have longer periods of support, because Apple builds the A series processors in them, so they can continue to provide support for their product for as long as it is feasible to. That is one of the advantages of owning the entire product stack, hardware and software.



    Yes, we need to do better, and it is slowly getting there. Last year support went from 2 OS updates and 3 years of security to 3 years of OS updates and 4 years of security updates. But you can bet that Qualcomm is taking in a lot more money to accommodate that. Everything is a negotiation, and we need all the players to come to the table to make this better.

  8. angusmatheson

    i have a iPhone 6S plus that is fully supported and on the most recent OS iOS 15.a the battery is terrible after all these years, but usable. Apple would replace it for $29, but the nearest apple store is 1 1/2 hours away and I have been really busy.

  9. Chris_Kez

    Does Google have any standing to tell Qualcomm or other chip vendors that they must support Android security updates for ___ number of years or else not be eligible to use Google Play Services? I can understand why Google wouldn't want to do that; just wondering if it is something they could do.

  10. shark47

    "...I would love nothing more than a phone with no apps"


    Another thing that I agree with. There's now an app for everything and it's painful to manage. In fact, there are some things you can't do on your computer. You need an app for them. (Check deposits into bank accounts is one example.) Apple and Microsoft's solution? We'll let you run apps on your computer.


    Maybe the next revolution will be something around managing all these apps.

  11. jchampeau

    As others have stated, if you seek longevity, consider switching to iPhone. Apple supports their models much longer than what you're experiencing with the Pixel 3. Brad mentioned on a podcast recently that his parents were just now upgrading from their eight-year-old iPhone 6s because they had finally reached their end-of-support date. The iPhone 6S came out in September 2015 and according to this page, it's still getting updates: https://support.apple.com/guide/iphone/supported-models-iphe3fa5df43/ios

  12. peterc

    This is very true. Security updates at least should last much longer and personally I think OS versions should too.


    I would also like to point out that if you take "matters" into your own hands you can greatly extend the lifespan of a handset by installing a custom ROM. Yes I know its not everyone's cup of tea shall we say, but I do think its a valid path.


    Taking a pixel 3 and downloading some software and reading a some detailed online instruction can extend the lifespan of a handset dramatically, along with regular security patches etc. As daft as it sounds to some, wiping your pixel 3 and installing the "pixel experience ROM" onto your pixel 3 handset is the way to go in my opinion.


    Anyone with kids should also think about it. Here in the UK I can pick up a B grade pixel 3 (black) for £140. I can install the Pixel Experience ROM or other ROM flavours and have a perfectly good device that works really well for quite a few years to come....

    • wright_is

      The problem is, those that really need to take matters into their own hands, those that can only afford a new phone every 5 - 10 years, also have absolutely no idea and no interest about how the phone works or what rooting and alternative ROMs are. They generally have problems even understanding what the hell most of the settings mean, let alone having the nouse to install a new OS.

  13. navarac

    Paul's article applies to almost all phones, I think. In this age of e-waste awareness, it is a disgrace that any phone is out of updates in a 2-3 years. All in the name of gouging another phone to us.

  14. anoldamigauser

    Apple is still supporting the 6 and 6S, which are six years old.

    Microsoft still supports any computer that can run Windows 10. Currently, I have two computers that are at least 12 years old that are running Windows 10 21H2.

    Google could certainly do better, but to be fair to Google, some of this is on Qualcomm too.

  15. red.radar

    Isn't Android architected in a way such that user data is encrypted and sandboxed ?


    What is really at risk if you don't update your phone?





  16. j5

    Phone hardware longevity was one of the reasons I stopped using Android (Samsung S7) and moved to iPhone. Still rocking my iPhone 8 Plus. My Android friends 1 Samsung fan the other a Pixel fan they both have upgraded twice since then. My friend that loves pixels is about to upgrade a 3rd time getting the newest Pixel. That's so much e-waste and financial waste. These companies can easily keep supporting these phones.

    That'd be an interesting study to see how far back, to older Android and iPhones they could push actual OS updates to and then at least security updates.

    • shark47

      Agreed. Not to bring politics into this, but I hate when the same people that pretend to care about the environment, attend marches for the climate etc., upgrade their phones every year or two and no one calls out these tech companies for essentially encouraging it.

    • wright_is

      One of the problems is the chip manfuacturers. They don't provide drivers for older SoCs for newer versions of Android.


      Apple doesn't have this problem, they have the chip designers in house, so they can support it as long as they want, and they have the whole eco-system around the devices, so they aren't limited to income purely from new devices. Qualcomm, on the other hand just wants to sell chips, the longer it keeps providing support for older devices, the less money it earns, theoretically.


      So the manufacturers of the phone are then stuck with a phone that still runs OK, but they don't get the SoC technical support they need to adapt the newer versions of Android. And, again, they are also only making any real money on new sales, there is no money in patching older devices to keep them safe, in fact, making them unsafe means that people "in-the-know" are forced to upgrade, but millions don't know or don't care about security, so they are left using dangerous devices.


      Goodwill is no longer really taken into account in the equation of product quality and lifespan.

      • lvthunder

        Do they really change Android that much that the chipset drivers need to be updated? That sounds like something Google can fix. Especially on the Pixel Phones.

  17. anderb

    That statement could also apply to the Pixel 6 series!

  18. peterc

    So if after your 2 OS releases and security patch updates period runs out, lets say thats 2 years for the purpose of this question, would you/we as consumers be prepared to pay a one off fee to extend this service to our existing handset for a further 1-2 years?


    Lets say its a $30 fee for 1 more year of "updates" or maybe $60 for 2. Would you pay it or buy a new handset?

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