According to a newly leaked document, Google has instituted new a policy stating if a manufacturer wants to release a new device with Google Mobile Services (GMS), including Google Apps and Google Play services, the manufacturer must have the latest version of Android installed on that device.
Starting February 2014, Google will no longer approve GMS distribution on new Android products that ship older platform releases. Each platform release will have a “GMS approval window” that typically closes nine months after the next Android platform release is publicly available. (In other words, we all have nine months to get new products on the latest platform after its public release.)
If the leak and memo are accurate, Google has ended certification of Android 4.1 and lower at the beginning of this month (February). Any device planned to launch with Android 4.1 or lower will no longer meet the requirements for GMS certification for shipping on OEM devices.
According to the above chart, after April 24th 2014, new devices with Android 4.2 won’t be certified and as of July 31st 2014, the window for new device certification with Android 4.3 will close, leaving those devices shipping with Android KitKat as the latest approved devices until the next major update later this year, at which time the 9-18 month approval cycle for KitKat-based devices will be well underway. There is also this notice regarding devices already approved well before this new update and approval cycle:
Google will still approve new builds of an existing product that has been already approved in partner.android.com. This allows partners to provide updated security patches and critical bug fixes to Android users on previously shipped devices.
The above means that any devices that were approved well before the new rules in the leak and memo will still be allowed to be released without having their certification revoked. However, this does not mean that devices released after will be given the same leeway.
The rumor also states that the previous version of Android will see its window close 9 months after a newer version is released as the new update policy going forward to encourage increased manufacturer adoption of the latest Android versions on a more consistent basis, rather than the current trend of throwing random versions of Android on different devices to suit different cost targets.
With Google really pushing for KitKat as the new Android baseline owing to its optimization for low-end and mid-range devices, this new update and approval policy may be the best way for Google to address inconsistency with Android as well as getting manufacturers on the same page with updates.
Getting manufacturers to agree to consistent updates is something that Google has had a lot of trouble with in the past and only recently addressed with its larger Android OEM partners. Should this pan out, this may finally put Android back on track in terms of consistency across devices, something that’s been sorely needed for many months, if not years.