Speaking to The Verge about the Pixel’s first Feature Drop update, VP of Product for Pixel Sabrina Ellis claims that one of the features of that update—improved memory management—will eventually come to other Android smartphones. This implicitly confirms that the feature is not a Pixel-specific optimization, but rather a change in the Android platform itself.
The insight here, though, is that this means many Android phones may not take advantage of these changes to the way Android handles RAM for quite some time. That’s because Google is likely introducing this change as part of a larger, platform-level update in the Pixel’s quarterly Feature Drop, changes many phonemakers may not choose to integrate until Android 11.
For large manufacturers like Samsung, core platform updates have come infrequently to its smartphones, and often quite late. Some manufacturers also choose to skip incremental platform updates entirely, instead waiting for the next major Android platform update (e.g., Android 11) to implement all of the accumulated changes at once.
That’s because, despite the disappearance of “.x” releases for Android (such as Android 8.1) since Android 9 Pie, they very much live on: Google makes incremental updates to the platform quarterly, and has done so since at least Android 7 Nougat.
In that sense, the story with this memory management update is no different than any other platform-level feature: some manufacturers will integrate it sooner, some will integrate it much later. But as a story, it does serve to highlight the fact that simply being “fast” with updates isn’t painting a full picture. If an OEM chooses to skip all or some of the Android platform’s quarterly updates, they could be significantly further behind the Pixel than a simple version number would indicate (which is why, I suspect, Google has done away with those “.x” releases, at least in part).
As Google seeks to differentiate the Pixel for the software features it introduces ahead of other Android phones, it’s inevitably going to lead to friction with companies it otherwise considers partners. No doubt, it’s also a bit of encouragement to those partners: the Android team can point to what the Pixel team is doing and tell other phonemakers that they, too, could be taking advantage of these features, if they were more aggressive about their update cadence.