I noticed that our HTC Thunderbolts were upgraded from Android 2.3 to Android 4.0. That is very nice, I thought it would never upgrade.

Now that it did, I am wondering, why / what rules qualify an upgrade? Is it once every 18 months regardless? Is it diverse depending on which phone you have? Does it also depend on the carrier and/or brand? (are the HTC phones generally this way, or is it Verizon's choice)

Please clarify the Android OS update policy for me.

It would be extra good if you knew the policy on the iPhone OS, and how it compares.

Oh, and I already know that apps (YouTube, Play Store, Play Music, Gmail, Games) are not part of the OS, except for certain bundled apps. (Camera, Internet, Phone, etc.)

  • There basically is no policy. You'll get updates whenever the carrier/manufacturer/Google decide to release them. Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 14:52
  • Then the question is, who decides? The Carrier, Manufacturer, or Google? Or do they have to agree? Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 14:53
  • Google releases updates of Android regardless of what anybody else is doing with it. They develop it on their own timeline. What the manufacturers and carriers do after that probably varies, I would guess. In the US where phones are (typically) heavily subsidized by carriers, they generally have much more influence. In places where subsidizing is less common that may not be the case at all. Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 14:53
  • Who decides depends on where you buy the phone from. If you're buying a nexus device directly from Play Store, it's Google that decides the update. If you're buying carrier subsidized phones, it's usually the carrier that decides update schedule, sometimes that closely follows the manufacturers's update schedule, other times there can be significant delay between manufacturer update and carrier update schedule. How large the delay is is carrier dependant.
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 4:56

3 Answers 3


There isn't a specific Android OS Upgrade Policy. If it's a Nexus device and it can handle the latest version of Android it will get the latest version of Android from Google. Other than that it is up to manufacturers to update drivers and their specific customized version of Android for their own devices and then it is up to the carriers to approve those updates and release them to users' phones.

Apple has only one phone basically and they release updates on what seems to be a yearly basis and update is done via their own service, not restricted by carriers.

  • Well, then for completeness, do you know how often Google updates the Nexus device? Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 22:37
  • Major updates tend to be every 6 months and minor updates in between.
    – znewman
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 2:13


The last few new Android versions have been

  • Android Jelly Bean 4.1 on July 2012
  • Android Jelly Bean 4.2 on November 2012
  • Android Jelly Bean 4.3 on July 2013
  • Android Kitkat 4.4 on October 2013
  • Android Lollipop 5.0 on November 2014
  • Android Lollipop 5.1 on March 2015

So apart from a gap between 4.4 and 5.0 the minor releases have mostly been about half a year apart, and there has been a new major release (eg new dessert themed codename) about every one and a half years.

Important notes, however:

  • Only Nexus branded devices get the updates as soon as they're released. Third party manufacturers get given the source code on that day, and it takes them a few months to make it into a release, depending on various factors. Additionally, they have various agreements with carriers to let the carriers test updates before releasing which can add months.

  • Not all devices receive all updates, and some receive no updates at all. The more "popular" a device and the more it is considered a "flagship" device, the more likely it is to get updates, but that's only a general rule of thumb. There are phones being sold today still using only Android 4.3 with no further updates.


According to Google 18 months is the OS life.

"Nexus devices may not receive the latest version of Android if they fall outside of the update window, which is usually around 18 months after a device has been released." https://support.google.com/nexus/answer/4457705?hl=en

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