Fairphone 3 will receive updates for seven years, outperforming all other Android OEMs

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The Fairphone 3.
Enlarge / The Fairphone 3.

No one in the Android ecosystem can put a finger on Apple’s software support timeline for the iPhone, but there’s one company that comes closest: Fairphone. Following in the footsteps of the Fairphone 2, the Fairphone 3 also gets seven years of OS support, the best in the Android industry. Fairphone continues to run circles around giant tech companies that have far more resources than they do, and does so even despite component vendors like Qualcomm dropping support for the phone’s core components.

Company announced today that support for the Fairphone 3, which was released in 2019, has been extended to 2026, which means seven years of updates. The company also just released Android 13 for the Fairphone 3. Google’s own 2019 phone, the Pixel 4, ended support in October 2022.

Fairphone strives to make smartphones that last, designs its products to be repairable and also offers replacement parts for sale online. Part of that sustainability mission is an absolutely massive effort to keep the Android updates flowing even as Qualcomm drops critical software support for the SoC. Fairphone says the Snapdragon 632 SoC in the Fairphone 3 was only supported up to Android 11, so continuing to support the Fairphone 3 meant doing the upgrades all by yourself.

For the normal update process, Google releases a new build for Android’s open source repository, then SoC vendors like Qualcomm use those builds to create a “Board Support Package (BSP)” for each SoC, which includes updated drivers, own blobs and all the other bits of code that make the hardware work. Android phone manufacturers usually start their work with these SoC-supported builds of Android, so they only need to add support for their additional hardware. With Qualcomm dropping support for the Fairphone 3 SoC, Fairphone had to do the BSP update work itself. Fairphone is the only Android phone manufacturer that does this. All others exit support along with the SoC vendor.

While seven years of updates is incredible, the only thing you could ask Fairphone for is that the updates don’t arrive at a regular pace. The company actually skipped Android 12 to ship Android 13 because of all that “building the BSP yourself” work. Monthly security updates probably don’t arrive as regularly either. Yet Fairphone doing this at a fraction of the budget of larger companies shows that the usual excuses Android manufacturers make are not valid. Any company could provide longer support if it wanted to; it’s all content that forces people to upgrade and create e-waste.

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