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#StuckOS: MediaTek Explains Why Some Local Phones Get Android Updates, And Some Don’t

Android-Marshmallow

The issue is more complicated than you think

Many people are welcoming Google’s newest Android update, Marshmallow, with delight and glee – least of which are Nexus and Android One owners. Unfortunately, not everybody celebrates when Google announces, and releases, a new version of their smartphone OS. People who own Android phones bought from local brands more often than not are shafted when it comes to getting Android updates – something that many tinkerers and devs are aware of. A lot of people point the finger to the most prolific processor maker in the planet – MediaTek – for the delayed updates.

The MediaTek-powered Cherry Mobile One got its Marshmallow update a few days ago
The MediaTek-powered Cherry Mobile One got its Marshmallow update a few days ago

But that’s not the case, says MediaTek. We managed to sit down with Cedric Chang, Account Div. Manager, Emerging Markets for the Taiwanese company during the sidelines of Cherry Mobile’s recent event to talk all things processors, updates and ODMs. He paints a very complex picture when it comes to updates, local brands, and ODMs. And while people like to point their fingers to MediaTek and their apparent lack of openness when it comes to their SoCs, he’s quick to point to the company’s close relationship to Google, especially for the Android One program. “Actually, I’m not sure that you know about the relationship of MediaTek and Google. Google only has 1 partner for the 3G chipset, and that’s MediaTek. Even Qualcomm is not their 3G partner. For LTE, they have two partners – us (MediaTek) and Qualcomm. The reason why I mention this is that since we are a chipset provider and we offer turnkey (solutions), so all the software we make ready one or two months after official release. We put a lot of effort (software updates) compared to other chipset providers who are also offering turnkey, for example, Qualcomm,” he says.

“We have an engineer that actually works closely with Google. We work with them all the time. For Marshmallow, for instance, we worked with them from the very beginning,” he adds.

So if MediaTek is so close to Google, what’s the holdup for updates? Well, according to Cedric, it’s usually down to the ODM. Most (if not all) local brands use ODM (original design manufacturer) companies to produce devices for them. Essentially these companies outsource production of pre-designed mobile phones that have parts and materials that local brands choose from. While MediaTek provides the heart of the smartphone, which is the processor, it’s up to the ODM to integrate other hardware components into the design – from displays, cameras, batteries and RAM – to produce a complete phone. This hardware integration also requires customization and coding that’s done on the ODM side of things. Once the phone hits this side of the planet, local brands then further customize the radios and other parts to their liking.

Many Flare X users are still waiting for their Lollipop update
Many Flare X users are still waiting for their Lollipop update

The issues arise when a new version of Android rolls around. Just like when a new version of Windows drops, it’s not guaranteed that all parts will play nice with the new OS. That’s the same issue with smartphones – while the new OS should work with existing hardware, extensive testing needs to be done by all parts manufacturers to make sure everything goes smoothly – including MediaTek. The ODM then needs to take the updated drivers for all the hardware (along with whatever new Android OS is) and make an OTA. If everything goes according to plan, the ODMs then release the OTA (or the equivalent) to companies and in our case, local brands that acquired units from them.

Unfortunately, that’s an optimistic scenario at best. Not all ODMs have the expertise, or even the manpower, to do this. New chipsets and hardware get released all the time, and many of them prefer to funnel their limited manpower to the latest and greatest rather than work on past releases. Volume of units sold by local brands also play a part here – a local brand that sells a ton of phones from a particular ODM has a bigger bargaining chip over a brand that only managed to sell a handful of units. for example. While it’s easy to lay the blame on local brands or even MediaTek, the real story is much more complicated.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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19 Comments

  1. Whatever Mediatek. You do not distribute your Linux kernel source code and are therefore violating the GPL. And even if we requested it, it comes for a price. Bullsh*t it’s fucking open source like qualcomm and intel. Stop being greedy.

    1. Again it’s the ODM fault not Mediatek even if you check Qualcomms website you will not find any Kernel source but you will find them on every ODM sites that distributes their firmware updates.

      Every ODM has their own hardware customization that needs to implement on every kernel source and Mediatek is just one part of all the components of the smartphone. The luck of manpower and huge amount of partners is the main reason why ODM’s don’t immediately release their updates.

      Cherry Mobile , Starmobile, Myphone and the likes are just one stem of that branch of every individual ODM’s.

      that is what MediaTek trying to emphasize.

      1. Actually, Mediatek can still be held culpable for this. How can manufacturers give out the right code, the right Kernel source, the right files if Mediatek won’t give the necessary code (and as implied directly violates the GPL)

        They deliberately REFUSE to give the source code because they want the manufacturers to instantly use their newest chipset even if it has half assed optimisation to the Android build.

        Compare the performance of a Mediatek device to a Qualcomm device, and the Qualcomm is almost guaranteed to have NO bugs the Mediatek device has…

        1. read this line again

          “all the software we make ready one or two months after official release.”

          It means once a new chipset are build they turn it over to the ODM’s and ODM is the one now responsible in making it compatible to all the components of the custom build product that they are making.

          Ex : Cherry Mobile Flare has a custom specs comparing to it’s similar device.

          If you are thinking MediaTek will give their chipset kernel yes that is possible but then that is JUST THE CHIPSET kernel source (but you need to be a manufacturer to more about that) so how about the different parts?, that is the job of the ODM to make all the components work. and once it’s ready they will release it publicly but then…

          again due to huge amount of workload of every ODM they can’t make that turnover is a short span of time. it takes time and the logic of some odm rather than them having a hard time making OLD MODELS UPDATED.

          they will just release a new device with the latest software. 🙂

          like Google as you can see they only provide 2years of support for the Android One after that expect the update to be manual.

  2. That is why some phones can be sold at a lower price. They don’t have to shoulder costs to update their phones…

  3. Then local brands should chose the hardware when outsourcing to a ODM if the statement is true that local brands can change the hardware according to their liking just like what GOOGLE did to their android one devices they chose the hardware that can easily updated in the future 🙂

  4. In sum, Qualcomm phones are BETTER (at almost every metric, but most especially at update support.) Intel cannot be superior because their phones are mired with mainly GPS problems (Zenfone 2)

    Mediatek is not helping at all by releasing one essentially IDENTICAL chipset after another (6592, then 6752, then 6753, then X10, soon x20, REALLY?!) so if their reasoning is correct (which is not,) ODM’s can’t keep up and won’t develop new Android versions for existing handset…

    1. Even better, save up instead of instantly buying a cheap phone with a Mediatek that will never, EVER, be updated, and buy a tier one manufacturer’s device (Samsung, LG, Xiaomi 4I – it has an SD615) at least they actually COMMIT to updating issues of these Chinese ODM’s (and some OEM’s) that directly VIOLATE Google’s 18 month updates policy for any Android device (this is a requirement before they can use Play Services.)

    2. What’s wrong with Intel’s GPS on the ZenFone 2? I find it quick to lock on even in moving vehicles. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon on the ZenFone 2 Laser (yes I’m an ASUS fan hahaha) on the other hand has a hard time maintaining lock on when the vehicle is moving, laging no GPS sa Waze under EDSA’s flyovers.

  5. I always laugh at ignorant people blaming mediatek for their handset updates. Sony released an infographic years ago bakit matagal dumating ang updates sa android at malinaw na walang kinalaman ang chipset makers dito. May testing, certification from google at kung anu ano pang process para lang maupdate ang handset. ODMs update our phones for free pero malaki ang ginagastos nila sa pagpapasweldo at google certification. If you bought a 4 to 8k device, expect that something will be shaved off from the quality dahil di biro ang pagshell out ng pera sa massive updates. You want 2 year android updates? Buy nexus, sony, samsung, or lg. Wag na magreklamo at manghingi ng kung anu-ano kung mura lang ang kaya ng budget ninyo.

  6. that’s why i really can’t blame chipset makers or the ODMs because its so damn complicated. If I buy a new phone I don’t expect it to have an update of the new OS. so if i buy a phone with 4.4 kitkat, I don’t expect to have lollipop, i just buy a phone with lollipop OS otb.

  7. If you want updates but do not have the budget for a Nexus phone, then buy a ‘Android One’ phone. You will get free updates for 2 years.
    Android One phones cost about P6k for Cherry Mobile One G1.
    The cheapest – MyPhone Uno, cost around P4K. Although you should be aware that while the micro sd cards currently being sold in the streets are not fast enough to function as internal memory, and some apps won’t run smoothly in sd memory, they can get rid of those annoying insufficient memory error messages.

  8. why they cannot release drivers and necessary files so that people can make their own roms? Most of the blame lies on mediatek, they don’t release drivers and don’t ask vendors or odm to release them.

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