Earlier this week, I noticed that my Galaxy S9+ review unit had an OTA update available. This update addressed some stability issues with the camera and put the phone on the latest security patch (which is certainly a good thing). But at nearly 250MB, it was quite a sizable update, too, and so installation took a bit to complete - my phone was out of commission for over five minutes.
Really, though, it shouldn't have been. Android introduced a feature called seamless updates as part of the 7.0 Nougat release... in 2016. Google's Pixel phones were the first to ship with it later that year. But it's now 2018, and the Galaxy S9 and S9+ ship with Android 8.0 Oreo. They still don't have seamless updates.
If you're not familiar, seamless updates (also known as A/B updates) allow an OS update to your phone to install in the background while you're still using it. Once the update has been completed - again, all in the background - you simply reboot your device (which effectively takes no longer than a normal reboot) and you're off and running.
The point is this: seamless updates can take a process that easily meant five minutes of hard downtime for your phone - or much longer for a major update - and reduce it to less than 30 seconds. With many Android phones now getting security patches on a monthly basis, this is a major convenience, and one that takes a lot of the pain out of the updating process.
The problem is that many manufacturers, Samsung included, still aren't adopting it. The reasons for this are probably numerous. For one, implementing seamless updates requires a fundamental set of changes to Android's traditional storage partitioning system, something that vendors are likely loathe to deal with. And a second drawback comes in the form of using more storage space, since seamless updates require that you essentially have two instances of the OS installed on the device ("A" and "B" images).
Whatever Samsung's reasoning is - be it a simple lack of will or fear users won't like having marginally less usable storage on their phones - this is a bit ridiculous. The benefits of seamless updates are quite obvious, and with security more and more a concern on our mobile devices, making sure customers aren't avoiding updating their phones because of the time the process takes should be a concern manufacturers and carriers are taking seriously. Google has provided a feature that effectively makes updating your phone painless. Samsung has had well over a year to adopt it, and probably a solid two years of notice that this change was coming.
It's a little sad, but Google will likely have to make seamless updates mandatory before many OEMs will comply and implement them, despite the obvious user experience benefits. Samsung should be doing this on its own - not waiting for Google to [probably inevitably] set a deadline.
We reached out to Samsung for an explanation, and will update this post if we receive a reply.
Samsung declined to comment on this story.