Opinion: Android Oreo should power all phones released in November and beyond

Every year, Google releases a new version of Android OS accompanied by a new smartphone (s). The latest is Android Oreo, the 8th major version of the popular mobile operating system and it powers the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL out of the box.

Like last year’s Android Nougat, which powered the original Pixel and Pixel XL out of the box, the search engine giant started rolling out the new Android Oreo in August. Sony’s Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ1 Compact were the first devices to be announced with Oreo during the IFA 2017 in Berlin, Germany and earlier this month, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were unveiled. Other than the Xperia XZ1 and Google Pixel 2 families, the only other family that has been confirmed with Oreo out of the box is the Huawei Mate 10 (excluding the Mate 10 Lite, which has Android 7.1 Nougat [a strange decision, if you ask me]). As you may have noticed, these are all premium phones.

Now, with two months left before 2018 is here, there’s still enough time for Android OEMs to come in with newer flagships targeting holiday shoppers. I’m talking the likes of OnePlus and HTC, among others. With Sony and Huawei having already unveiled phones powered by Oreo, there’s really no excuse for any other Android OEM to release a phone that has Nougat out of the box, even for the budget models. This is especially because it’s more than two months since Google published the AOSP for Android Oreo.

The beauty of Android, however, is that every smartphone OEM can have a unique software experience on their phones. What runs on the Google Pixels and Nexuses is the stock version, but each and every other OEM out there, including HMD Global and Motorola that claim to have stock versions, has a customized version of the OS running on their respective devices. As it is, this aspect turns out to be a stumbling block when it comes to software updates because OEMs with heavier skins need more time to customize the OS before rolling out the final version to their specific devices.

This also means that the two months the Oreo AOSP has been available for download is, somehow, not enough for some OEMs to make their tweaks. It’s, in fact, the reason the likes of Samsung, Xiaomi, OnePlus and many others often use the latest OS on devices that are released the following year. It’s time for this to change and I’ll tell you why.

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Sony and Huawei don’t have the lightest of Android skins, but they have somehow managed to come in with phones powered by Oreo. HTC, for instance, has really improved the Sense UI and it’s, in fact, way lighter than Huawei’s EMUI skin. With rumors that the Taiwanese company has plans to unveil a new flagship dubbed HTC U11 Plus this coming month, there’s really no reason the phone shouldn’t have Android Oreo out of the box. Besides, the company managed to release the HTC 10 Evo in November 2016 with Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box. Why not do it again with Oreo, especially since it was still working with Google on the successor to the smaller Pixel? LG also managed to unveil the V20 with Nougat out of the box, even ahead of the original Pixels, just like Sony did this year with the XZ1 family. Why not do it again with Oreo?

Last year’s OnePlus 3T, which was announced in November, came preinstalled with Marshmallow yet Nougat’s AOSP was available from August the same year. It would have been my wish to see the rumored OnePlus 5T debut with Oreo out of the box, but my guess is that the company will still turn to Nougat for fear that having Oreo on the 5T might remove one of the “upgrades” expected on the 2018 OnePlus 6 and thus affect the performance of the latter in the market.

Many smartphones that sell in Kenya are in the budget and midrange segment. These phones are mostly from Chinese manufacturers and honestly, they rarely receive any software updates, even the monthly security patches. For someone who always wants to have the latest software installed, you need to shell out some good money to get one of those high-end phones from Google, Samsung, HTC, OnePlus, LG, Motorola, among others. Right now, it’s possible to find a newly released phone powered by Android Lollipop with zero chances of ever receiving an update to Marshmallow or Nougat. Since most of these OEMs deliberately choose not to work on software updates probably due to the costs involved, right now there’s really no point of releasing devices based on an older OS, especially since Oreo’s AOSP has been available since August.

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Android 8.0 Oreo

HTC and OnePlus are not the only Android OEMs that will want to jump right into the Christmas holiday craze with new phones. Many others will be ready to take advantage of people’s willingness to buy, even if it’s in the midrange and budget segments. Samsung, for instance, is expected to refresh the Galaxy A family. Interestingly, the Galaxy A 2017 family came preinstalled with Marshmallow, yet Nougat had been around for more than four months. Samsung being Samsung, don’t be surprised if the Galaxy A 2018 family comes preinstalled with Android 7.1.1 Nougat.

In fact, the tech giant recently confirmed that Android Oreo will start rolling out in early 2018. Since the Galaxy A 2018 is expected to be unveiled at about the same time, it’s unlikely that it will be the first phone from Sammy to use Oreo, rather, the usual will prevail where the Galaxy S9 will do the honors.

There isn’t so much room left in terms of improvements to smartphone hardware. With attention turning to AI, there is no doubt that the smartphone battleground will soon turn into a software affair. We can already see it with operating systems and digital assistants from Google, Samsung, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Perhaps it’s the major reason Google acquired the Pixel team from HTC – because it wants to take charge of its hardware in order to better integrate the technology into future Pixel phones. The good thing is that with Oreo comes Project Treble, Google’s nifty trick of ensuring that OEMs will be able to roll out software updates a lot faster than before.

If any non-Google Android OEM really cares, they need to follow in the footsteps of Sony and Huawei and give us phones powered by Android Oreo out of the box.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Hillary Keverenge

Still working on my bio. Meanwhile, you can trust me, I'm a tech-savvy dude. Find me on Twitter @raskeverenge