Nexus 5, and Xperia Z3, both are very capable smartphones which still after 2 years perform as good as any new non-flagship devices.When Google confirmed the nexus 5 wouldn’t be getting the official Nougat from them, it was disappointing since the device still commands a heavy following and dev support. It already has an unofficial alpha version of Nougat. But it shouldn’t be surprising since the nexus 5 had finished its promised 2 year support cycle.
When Sony’s official list of the devices it’ll be updating to Android Nougat left out the Xperia Z3, which was included in Sony’s beta testing of Android Nougat, it came as a shock. Xperia Z3 is still very well under its 2 year promised support cycle. The question is why? Why wouldn’t these companies update these devices that do deserve an update?
So here’s the situation apparently. There are two possible reasons, one being that Qualcomm, for one reason or another, has supposedly decided not to release updated drivers for the Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 801 processors, which happen to drive practically all 2014 flagship devices, and even some 2015 ones that decided to stay off the ill-fated Snapdragon 810.
Furthermore, there’s another reason, Android Central reports Android 7.0 has withdrawn support for the snapdragon 800/801 SoC both of which include the Adreno 330 GPU. Which means such updated drivers from Qualcomm are supposedly required to run Android 7.0 Nougat.
Android Central further explains nobody from any of the companies involved is talking about these issues, and requests for an official statement haven’t been returned, but the internet has some clues about it all. Here we see Ola Olsson, of Sony Mobile Communications, talk a bit about it in a comment on Google+.
Yeah, this is sad but we don’t want to play the blame game which means that we can’t say more about the technical limitations. Even if we really wanted to give you N on the z3(c), we wouldn’t [have] been able to do it. Not if we wanted to pass the Google CTS.
There are similar responses elsewhere, and rather than throwing anyone under the bus, Sony has tried to handle it in a professional corporate way. But Android Central points out the important thing to note is the mention of Google CTS.
It stands for Google Compatibility Testing Suite which is something used to certify a device to run Google Play services and other Google apps such as the Playstore. The rules and certification process are a mystery mostly because none of the partners nor Google talk about it for some reason, not talking about it publicly is perhaps a clause in their contracts. Android is Open source but Google apps are not, and android’s dependence on Google services is a cause for concern for many like Matthew Miller, project leader of popular Linux distribution Fedora.
Long story short, to be certified by Google CTS if you run Android Nougat on a device, the device should support all the apps that are designed for Android Nougat. For instance, say the Android Marshmallow introduced a Nearby API, if your smartphone runs Marshmallow, it should be able to support an app that makes use of the said API. If it lacks the hardware, the device cannot get certified and hence, no Google services.
This is why Sony says they cannot update the Xperia Z3 even if they want, it simply lacks hardware support for the new graphics APIs introduced in Nougat and Sony is sure nobody would want an Android phone without Google Services better known to developers and modders as Gapps. The Android Nougat APIs were finalized after the beta 4 update which is why the Xperia Z3 has been running the beta versions up to the 4th.
Further details arrive via Twitter user LlabTooFeR. In a brief tweet (and through responses), it is explain that devices such as the HTC One M8 and other devices based on the 800 and 801 won’t be updated to Android Nougat, at least not officially.
As to why Qualcomm wouldn’t release updated drivers, Android Nougat introduces a lot of new changes under the hood, one of which is the new Vulkan API which brings better gaming performances to smartphones running the platform. Yes, one of the graphics APIs we talked about earlier.
This major change, as good as it may be, is apparently the reason why Qualcomm has decided not to release graphics drivers for the Snapdragon 800/801 CPUs, making official updates for devices powered by that chipset much more difficult.
While nearly all of those devices are older, there are two devices that stand out a bit, the OnePlus X and ZTE Axon. Both of these devices were released in the past year, and if this rumor is true, neither will see an update, not that we ever expected anything for the OnePlus X given OnePlus’ terrible track record of updating the device.
Perhaps more worrying is the idea that Qualcomm is no longer supporting those said chips, which continue to run on many devices today, both old and new. Processors don’t have the same short life span of smartphones and should, in theory, be supported far longer. Hopefully, either this tip is just a misunderstanding or Qualcomm changes course.