3 tough questions about Samsung’s Android 14 accomplishment

Well, my friends, hell has officially frozen over.

Samsung, the company traditionally associated with slow and unpredictable Android software updates, has started sending out the latest and greatest Android version to owners of its current-gen Galaxy S23 flagship phone.

Make no mistake about it: This is quite an accomplishment — and quite a milestone not only for Samsung but for Android device-makers in general. For context, this has Galaxy S23 owners in the respectable position of receiving Android 14 roughly four weeks after the software’s release. Last year, it took Samsung nearly three months to get the current Android version out to folks who shelled out top-dollar for its top-tier phone models. And it was among the least embarrassing performers across the ecosystem for that cycle.

But while the company showing some hustle and serving its highest-paying customers well is certainly something to celebrate, for anyone who watches Android closely (and has been watching it for a while — hi there!), the story isn’t so simple.

Here, then, are three tough but fair and incredibly important questions about Samsung’s Android 14 adventures — things we should all be thinking about in the weeks ahead to put this in proper perspective.

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Samsung Android 14 question #1: When will this upgrade actually reach everyone?

First and foremost, it’s critical to consider that in cases like Samsung’s, a company “starting” an Android upgrade is often a small-scale phenomenon limited only to certain parts of the world.

In the past, we’ve seen certain former phone-makers get sneaky with this and use it to their advantage — starting what’s essentially a test rollout in a random place like Lithuania and then putting out a big honkin’ press release touting that they were the “FIRST!” to the finish line. Perhaps predictably, that ends up getting them lots of positive coverage and little in the way of critical eyebrow-raising.

Samsung’s tactics aren’t anything that extreme, thankfully, but as of this moment, the Galaxy S23’s Android 14 rollout is limited to the UK and parts of Europe. The US — where Android Intelligence is based and which we use as the consistent basis for our annual Android Upgrade Report Card analyses — is notably not included in this current rollout as of yet, and Samsung has often started its US upgrades a fair bit later than their international counterparts.

An “upgrade” is not always an upgrade everywhere, in other words — and as of now, Samsung says only that the software should start to reach Galaxy S23 owners in America sometime “soon.”

Samsung Android 14 question #2: What about the rest of the Galaxy?

Most mainstream coverage of Android upgrades focuses mostly on the first rollout to a company’s most recent flagship product. That’s why every year, we see breathless hype about how Samsung is the “king of Android upgrades” and “absolutely killing it” while my own in-depth upgrade analyses tend to paint a very different picture.

Here’s the thing people tend to brush aside with this: Every phone-maker has multiple Android products that need to be upgraded to current Android versions. At the very least, that includes older-generation flagship phones — top-tier, top-dollar devices from as recent as a single year prior. As the standard window for Android software support continues to expand, that also now includes flagship phones from two years ago and in some cases even longer.

And that’s not all. With Samsung, specifically, the company maintains a top-tier phone with co-flagship status in its Galaxy Z Fold line. And, perhaps most significant, the company sells a sprawling selection of midrange and budget-level devices — phones like the Galaxy A14, Galaxy A14 5G, Galaxy A54 5G, and Galaxy A34 5G (gesundheit!), all of which were in a recent list of the top 10 smartphones sold worldwide in the first half of 2023.

These are the devices most Android-owning organisms are using, in other words. And these are the devices that typically take an embarrassingly long time to receive current software updates.

So far, Google’s been the only company to consistently send software updates out to every current model at the same time, whether it’s a current-gen flagship, a previous-gen flagship, or a lower-priced Android option. When we talk about a phone-maker making it to the end point, we have to look at this bigger picture and not just when it managed to squeeze a single toe over the finish line.

Samsung Android 14 question #3: Is this the start of a new trend — or simply a short-term fluctuation?

Last but not least, to don our skeptic hats for a moment, we’ve gotta ask if this single Samsung Android upgrade accomplishment is the beginning of a newfound commitment to faster processing on the company’s part or if it’s simply an isolated, limited moment of success.

And this isn’t being overly cynical, either. It’s being realistic.

When you zoom out and look closely at Samsung’s Android upgrade performance over time, the company’s had plenty of ups and downs. With Android 12 in 2021, for instance, Samsung scored a then-new record by sending that software out to its current flagship phone owners in 65 days — a notable improvement over its previous performance in that area, in which it took anywhere from 91 to 213 days to achieve that same feat.

Its previous-gen flagship upgrade delivery was another record-setter that go-round, at the reasonably decent 95-day mark — compared to a 136-day delay a year earlier and waits as long as 293 days in some years before that.

But then, the next year, with Android 13, Samsung slipped back and took 86 and 105 days to get Android 13 out to its current-gen and previous-gen flagships, respectively.

The company’s had this ping-ponging pattern all throughout its Android upgrade history — going all the way back to Android 5.0 in 2014, when I first started tracking this stuff closely.

So while it’s refreshingly commendable to see Samsung starting off on a strong note with this year’s Android upgrade progress, we’ve got plenty of unknowns yet to assess in terms of what this means both in the immediate moment and what it might (or might not) suggest in terms of any broader impact. And since Samsung typically doesn’t offer much in the way of clear communication or promises about its intentions in this area, all we can do is ask.

But asking is important — as it gives us the deeper, more meaningful perspective that actually lets us interpret the information in an accurate way. And especially in an era of surface-level hot takes and limited institutional knowledge, that kind of context is invaluable.

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