What is a system software update?
“This just showed up on my screen and I have no idea what it is, where it came from, or what it took to get it to me…”
If you’ve been an Android user for a while, then you’re probably familiar with the variety of sweet flavors associated with it; from Jelly Bean to Lollipop. But what you’re most likely not familiar with is how it goes from Google announcement to the screen above. This blog, in particular, aims to look at how Android Lollipop 5.1 came to be for Republic Wireless.
So, just what is a system software update or “MR?” Good question. A MR, or “maintenance release,” is commonly known as the release of a product or software that is not intended to add new content or features. Sometimes referred to as a “minor release,” these MRs generally include minor enhancements and bug fixes. However, we look at them, in our case, as “major releases.” These MRs include anything from bug fixes, security updates, app updates, regulation compliance, and of course operating system upgrades (e.g. KitKat to Lollipop). We tend to include these with new phone releases because it makes it easier to obtain certification from the carriers (we will get into that more later). We also use them as a way to update our existing base already in production (the Moto X 1st Generation and 2nd Generation, Moto G, and Moto E). Either way you cut it, these MRs don’t just appear overnight.
Android L (Lollipop)
Well that’s great, but why don’t I have Lollipop by now?
The whole process seems simple enough, really, so why is our entire phone portfolio not on Lollipop by now? It’s a fair question, but I think going through the history of Lollipop and where we are today will help explain it. Quick interesting aside before proceeding: As of June 2015, 39.2% of Android devices were still on KitKat version 4.4, 11.6% are on Lollipop version 5.0.2, and 0.8% are on Lollipop version 5.1.x.
Android L (now known as Lollipop) was unveiled to the world on June 25, 2014 at the Google I/O Conference (many of you witnessed the same type of unveiling for Android M this year). However, just because it was announced did not mean it was available for the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer (e.g. Motorola)) or carriers (Republic Wireless) for some time.
Lollipop, the namesake of Android L, first became available as 5.0.0 on November 3, 2014. However, it wasn’t until December 19, 2014 that the first device specific (1st Gen Nexus 7) 5.0.2 version was released. This would be the version of Lollipop first available to Republic Wireless for the Moto E (2nd Gen.) with 4G LTE.
We began development of the Moto E LTE in December using Lollipop version 5.0.2 as the OS. Most OEMs and carriers enact a code freeze (no new development) at the end of December and through the New Year. It makes it impossible to get device/software certification during this time. We at Republic Wireless, however, kept hammering away at the device through the New Year to get this device and software to our members as quickly as possible.
Kill Switch Law
Everything was going swimmingly on the new device/software development until three things happened: The “Kill Switch” law came about from the results of legislation in California and Minnesota at the end of 2014, as well as a voluntary commitment from the CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industries Association). The goal of the “Kill Switch” was simple: reduce smartphone theft by preventing unauthorized reactivation of every device. Any LTE devices manufactured or sold after July 1, 2015 would have to comply with California SB.962 Chapter 275, Minnesota SF 1740, Chapter 241, and the CTIA voluntary commitment (which Motorola signed).
OEMs and carriers would have to abide by this new regulation if they wanted to continue selling LTE devices in these states after July 1, 2015. This obviously had an impact not only the Moto E LTE that we were currently developing, but also the Moto X (2nd Gen.). We would need to spin up new builds for both devices if we were going to be compliant. This new build would come to be known as Lollipop version 5.1.x (5.1.0 being the first).
Google introduced new security updates in 5.1.x that would be compliant with the new “Kill Switch” legislation mentioned above. Google officially announced it on March 9, 2015. It wouldn’t be available to Republic Wireless until late March, early April. Now we were going to have to have a MR for 2 devices at the same time! We had to act fast to be compliant by July 1 if we were going to be able to continue to deliver remarkable value to our members.
In order to ensure these MRs don’t break our devices it requires significant development, QA testing, internal acceptance testing, and eventually certification by Sprint before it can go public. The lab certification process alone can take over four weeks! This is a process required by any OEM or carrier before they can deliver a software or device to production and is completely out of the OEM or carriers hands.
Based on the below timeline you’ll see we were never more than a month behind the rest of the world (bearing in mind that the big carriers have agreements in place with Google that grants them first access). We do, however, strive to ensure the highest quality products and services for our customers. It takes time to produce this quality, but as you can see we also readily adapt ourselves to the many changes Android may face in a year. I look forward to getting into our update development process the next time.
So if you have been following the dates the time line looks a little something like this:
- November, 2014: Android Lollipop 5.0 available.
- December, 2014: Android Lollipop 5.0.2 available.
- December, 2014 – January, 2015: Android Lollipop 5.0.2 first available to Republic Wireless.
- August, 2014 – January, 2015: “Kill Switch” legislation in California and Minnesota, along with a voluntary commitment signed by members of the CTIA forces an update to Lollipop 5.1.x
- March, 2015: Android Lollipop 5.1 available to make devices compliant with legislation (Republic Wireless forced to halt production of 5.0.2 on the Moto E LTE to change to 5.1.0 as well as adding 5.1.0 to the Moto X (2nd Gen.) to be legally compliant).
- Late April, 2015: Republic Wireless receives Android Lollipop 5.1.0 and starts work to upgrade the Moto E LTE and the Moto X (2nd Gen.).
- May, 2015-June, 2015: To ensure highest quality for our members, Republic Wireless uses an in-depth process of development and quality assurance testing. This also includes a 4 week cycle for certification before we can introduce the software/device into production.
- July, 2015: Android Lollipop 5.1.0 begins rolling out to our Moto X (2nd Gen.) and Moto E LTE customers.
- The rest of 2015: All remaining Republic phones (Moto X (1st Gen.), Moto G (1st Gen.), and Moto E (1st Gen.)) will be updated to Lollipop 5.1
and are actively being tested<<– Whoops, premature! Testing starts with Moto X (1st Gen) in August and will cascade through our other devices from there.
We worked diligently through these barriers to deliver Lollipop to you, and are excited to have it in production today for our new LTE devices. We also look forward to bringing it to our entire base as soon as possible! Our devs are working round the clock to ensure we are in compliance and that we provide our members with an excellent smartphone experience (we all use Moto X (1st Gen.) phones too!).
Hopefully this helps answer your questions on how Android Lollipop came to be at Republic Wireless.
-Mr. MR, Engineered to be different
- Data collected from the Google Play Store app during a 7 day period ending on June 1, 2015. Android Developers. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
- “When and where to get Android 5.0 Lollipop”. CNET. Dan Graziano. CBS Interactive. October 15, 2014.
- Android 5.0.2 LRX22G Factory Image for Nexus 7 (WiFi) Randomly Shows Up. Droid Life. Cory Gunther. December 19, 2014.
- MN Chapter 241, SF1740; CA SB.962, Chapter 275; CTIA Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment.
- “Google officially announces Android 5.1”. Ars Technica. Ron Amadeo. March 9, 2015.