Fairphone 3 gets seven years of updates, besting every other Android OEM


The Fairphone 3.
Enlarge / The Fairphone 3.

No one in the Android ecosystem can hold a candle to Apple’s software support timeline for the iPhone, but there is one company that comes the closest: Fairphone. Following in the footsteps of the Fairphone 2, the Fairphone 3 is also getting an Android-industry-best seven years of OS support. Fairphone continues to run circles around giant tech companies that have a lot more resources than it does, and it’s doing this even in the face of component vendors like Qualcomm dropping support for the phone’s core components.

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

Fairphone strives to make sustainable smartphones, designing its products to be repairable and also offering replacement parts for sale online. Part of that sustainability mission is an absolutely herculean effort to keep the Android updates flowing, even when 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 itself.

For the normal update process, Google releases a new build to the Android open source repository, then SoC vendors like Qualcomm take those builds to create a “Board Support Package (BSP)” for each SoC, which includes updated drivers, proprietary blobs, and all the other bits of code that make the hardware work. Android phone manufacturers usually start their work from 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 on its own. Fairphone is the only Android phone manufacturer that does this. Everyone else shuts down support along with the SoC vendor.

While seven years of updates is incredible, the one thing you could ding Fairphone for is that the updates don’t arrive at a regular cadence. The company actually skipped Android 12 to deliver Android 13 due to all that “build the BSP yourself” work. Monthly security updates probably don’t arrive that regularly either. Still, Fairphone doing this with a fraction of the budget of larger companies shows that the usual excuses Android manufacturers make aren’t valid. Any company could offer longer support if it wanted to; they’re all just content forcing people to upgrade and creating e-waste.


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