Android 12 is one of the most ambitious updates to the platform in recent history, bringing a major design overhaul to every corner of the operating system. It was also one of the most difficult Android OS launches in recent years. Samsung and OnePlus have suspended the rollout of their Android 12-based stable updates amid serious bug reports. Google itself has addressed a long list of bug reports from Pixel 6 owners, just as it tries to convince them that it has finally figured out how to build a truly premium phone. What the hell is happening ?
The short answer is that there are some unique complicating factors at play this year, but also that Android is inherently a bit messy – it just comes with the territory when you’re designing a lovely public park versus the walled garden of Apple. Despite a refreshed look and some attractive new premium handsets, Android is still Android – the good and the bad.
The release of Android 12 began quite predictably with an official announcement at Google I/O in May 2021. After that, the timeline looks a little different from previous years. A full stable release arrived a month later than usual on October 4, 2021. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro launched later that month with Android 12 preloaded. A handful of bugs were to be expected, but Google’s December Pixel update included dozens of fixes despite Google having that extra month.
Worse, the December patch itself proved problematic as some Pixel 6 owners complained about network connection issues made worse by the update. Google discontinued the update and later deleted it from its archives to prevent manual downloads. When asked, the company didn’t provide an explanation for the problematic update, but did say a patch would be coming in late January that would include all of the bug fixes planned for the December patch.
Google isn’t the only one having trouble with its new operating system. Samsung users in South Korea have reported serious issues with their Galaxy Fold 3 and Flip 3 devices after installing the stable One UI 4.0 (Android 12) release, including flickering screens and bricked phones. Samsung acknowledged the issue and first responded by issuing a fourth beta software release to fix bugs introduced by the stable release.
OnePlus’ stable version wasn’t so stable either: its Android 12 skin was so buggy that the company suspended its release, like Google, after it received widespread criticism. In a brief statement, OnePlus explained that the fact that this release marked the company’s attempt to integrate its OxygenOS and ColorOS codebases into the same version “led to an unsmooth software experience” and that its software team ” collected community feedback and released a new version of OxygenOS 12 within a week to provide better user experience.
In each case, these “stable” releases were anything but, and neither company provided much detail about what was wrong. To try to understand what is going on, we spoke to Mishaal rahman, former editor of XDA Developers, which is well known for digging into Android codebases and uncovering Google secrets. Addressing the Pixel 6 bugs in particular, Rahman speculates it has a lot to do with the update’s unusually large size. “Many people called it, myself included, Android’s biggest OS update since Android 5.0 Lollipop, and that was many years ago. There are so many massive changes in the interface and in all of the features.
He also suggests that Google’s commitment to releasing a new Android update every year may make matters worse when it tries to do the same, and the year-long development cycle it has imposed on itself does not doesn’t leave much wiggle room in the timeline. “They started immediately after Android 11 was released to the public – and they have a specific deadline…After that they just focus on fixing bugs.” Delay any longer, and they might bump into next year’s development cycle.
It’s also possible that the attempt to bring timely Android updates to non-Google devices ended in failure. Android phone owners have long been asking for faster updates — outside of Google’s Pixel phones and pricey flagships, many devices face long waits for OS updates. Indeed, the updates have arrived more quickly this year. Example: Samsung users usually wait about three months after a stable Android release to get their One UI update completed with the new OS version, but this year One UI 4.0 is arrived only a month and a half after Android 12. But given the way things have gone this year, many users would probably have opted for a slower and more stable update rather than a fast and bug-riddled update.
OnePlus, by its own admission, faced some unique complications as it attempted to merge Oppo’s ColorOS and OxygenOS at the same time as it incorporated Android 12 changes. It’s a recipe for bugs, Rahman explains. “Devices moving from Android 11 with OxygenOS 11 to OxygenOS 12 have a lot of settings and features being migrated.”
To illustrate the problem, he describes a bug that some Realme device owners have encountered: users who restore settings from an old Android phone while setting up a Realme device would sometimes find the Night Light setting constantly activated on their new phone. This happened due to an incompatibility between Realme and Google’s open source Night Light implementations. OxygenOS 12, he suspects, suffered from similar issues. “These are the types of bugs that plague this update.”
While it’s still unclear how an update as buggy as OnePlus’ initial OxygenOS 12 got a “stable” designation, it makes a bit more sense when you factor in the massive challenge. to merge two code bases.
While all of these factors likely contributed to an unusually troubled release, the underlying issue is familiar. By its nature, Android is a fragmented ecosystem. There’s no straight line between Android 12 and the Galaxy S21 or OnePlus 9 – every major update sees handoffs between the manufacturer, carriers and Google, leading to delays. Initiatives like Project Treble seem to have helped speed up parts of the process, but unless Google takes drastic action, no one can completely fix the problem.
As OEMs and Google push to get updates faster, they’ve also made an effort to produce more eye-catching premium devices. OnePlus seems to separate its “flagship, but cheaper” ethos into two different areas: “flagship” like the 9 Pro and “cheaper” phones separated to the Nord series. Samsung is making a serious attempt to bring foldables into the mainstream. Google has positioned the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro as true flagships, with custom processors and a more polished, less quirky design language than previous generations. This buggy deployment of the operating system risks taking away some of the luster of the polished image that these device makers hope to cultivate – in fact, the the damage may already be done.
My Pixel 6 Pro has gotten so buggy since its launch in October that I can’t recommend it at $900 anymore. Combined with the last botched update, it’s just a bad experience. My SIM card is back in an S21 Ultra until the next review.
— Marks Brownlee (@MKBHD) January 12, 2022
It’s a shame because they succeeded with the material. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are two of the best phones Google has ever made. OnePlus’ ambition to create a true flagship competitor has resulted in a polished product that is the real article. And this time around, Samsung seems to have succeeded in creating a foldable phone that has caught the attention of more than just tech geeks. But behind the brilliant hardware, the software experience can be spotty at times. That’s easier to forgive on a mid-range or budget phone, but it’s hard to put up with on a high-end device.
It’s unlikely, however, that this unusually troubled release will cause a significant number of people to bail out Android; as painful as some of these bugs have been, they’re probably not enough to push users through the hurdles of a jump to Apple. Rahman thinks that in most cases the ecosystem lockdown is too strong.
“You would lose so many apps and services that you pay for. If you have other devices that interact with your smartphone, you would lose access to them, or that access would be diminished in some way. I don’t see that as a big factor in convincing people to turn away from a particular device. These barriers also exist on Apple’s side, of course. Recently emerged emails from Apple executives imply that iMessage remains exclusive to iPhones as a mechanism to keep Apple users with Apple.
Apple has also had its share of software issues, of course. But it’s generally a more predictable experience – if you’re willing to live within the confines of that walled garden. And there’s the flip side of Android’s fragmented existence: there’s no single entity dictating hardware and software. In Apple’s ecosystem, you get what it considers to be the right features at the right time, and that’s it. Foldable? Maybe in a few years. A rainbow of customizable system colors? Forget. Life is a bit more interesting – if sometimes unpredictable and uneven – outside the garden walls.