If you have an Android phone you can probably expect two to three years of software updates if you're lucky, and by the end of it you'll probably only get essential security updates. Beyond that you're stuck, and will need to buy something new if you want to keep the software up to date. People have been fighting for better software updates on third-party Android phones for years, but they've faced a bit of a snag after a dutch court ruled Samsung doesn't have an obligation to offer them.
The South Korean company was taken to court by Dutch consumer rights group Consumentenbond, which has been arguing companies should be obligated to update their phones for four years after they go on sale or two years after they've been purchased. It also wanted phone companies to ensure updates are rolled out within three months of them becoming available.
The lawsuit itself alleges that Samsung was leaving its customers unprotected from security risks, by not offering security updates in "a timely fashion", with some older models being left out completely. But the Hague Administrative Court doesn't agree, ruling the case was inadmissible because it relates to Samsung's future activities. The ruling said, “nothing can be decided regarding the nature and severity of any future security risks and Samsung's future actions" as it’s difficult to determine “specific circumstance” at this point in time.
So if a bug is discovered in future, Samsung could choose to distribute an update to all of its phone, or none of them, depending on the circumstances and nature of the flaw at the time.
Currently Samsung offers two years of security updates, which it says is good enough given the fact phones have a two year warranty in the EU and one year in other countries. It also claims that updates are rolled out within a "reasonable" timeframe, after testing for any compatibility issues with its devices. It told the BBC:
"We are satisfied with the ruling. The judge has acknowledged that Samsung is doing more than enough to ensure safety of its products.
"It is a pity that the court route taken by the Consumentenbond has unjustly cast our update policy in a negative light, as the ruling shows that we take the security of the smartphones we provide to consumers very seriously."
Consumentenbond has issued a statement claiming to be disappointed with the ruling, but noted that it had achieved something by making the company take better steps to inform its customers about the update process. It also released a statement saying:
"Samsung chooses to bring so many models to the market, there is no-one who forces them to do so. An automobile manufacturer must also ensure that all its models are safe and reliable and remain so. Samsung has the same obligation."
The situation with mobile updates is a weird one, mainly because companies would also prefer that you constantly upgrade your handset to the latest model - which in many cases is the fastest way to get the latest software and security updates. Obviously some companies are better than other, particularly first party phone makers like Apple and Google, though given their close relationship with the software and the fact they only sell a handful of handsets at any given time, that's to be expected.
Google itself has been trying many different things to improve the state of Android updates over the past few years, even partnering with manufacturers to ensure a purer Android experience that is more suited to regular software updates. Samsung was not one of those manufacturers, and unfortunately it's unlikely it ever will be. [BBC News]