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Exclusive: OnePlus 12 software updates — OnePlus' president explains why you get 5 years, not 7

 OnePlus 12 held in the hand.
OnePlus 12 held in the hand.

Though we've now reviewed both the OnePlus 12 and OnePlus 12R (and found them to be really quite good), we still had some questions that our time with the phones themselves couldn't answer. Like why OnePlus doesn't seem interested in offering the same length of software support as some of its biggest rivals, and also how its latest devices were faring as they get closer to going on sale.

Fortunately, in an exclusive interview with Tom's Guide, Kinder Liu, OnePlus' COO and president, was able to shed some light on the OnePlus 12 series, including why you get four to five years of updates, rather than seven.

Liu noted that he's been "thrilled with how our users and the media have responded to the OnePlus 12 series," boasting that OnePlus 12 preorders are 200% higher than what the OnePlus 11 racked up a year ago, and that four times as many people have signed up for OnePlus 12R availability notifications than for the OnePlus 11R.

That four-fold increase for the OnePlus 12R is likely due in no small part to it being sold globally, rather than only in India as previous OnePlus R models have. But the leap in pre-orders for the more familiar OnePlus 12 suggests something has captured the public's attention — perhaps its super-bright display, fast charging or impressive battery life, which are all things we praised in our OnePlus 12 review.

OnePlus 12 IR blaster.
OnePlus 12 IR blaster.

Or maybe it's all down to the IR blaster — an uncommon feature that we were happy to see appear on the OnePlus 12 thanks to its utility in controlling various household items like TVs and heaters. "The IR blaster is a great example of our focus on what our users tell us," Liu said. "Our users in India love having an IR blaster on their phone so we're pleased to bring it to a wider audience too."

Of Android updates and old sandwiches

Our conversation with Liu quickly moved on to a common talking point in smartphones — software updates. With the OnePlus 12, the phone maker is sticking to four years of Android updates with an additional year of security patches; the OnewPlus 12R, which costs less scales things back to three years of Android updates and four years of security support.

It's more generous that what some Android phone makers offer, particularly when it comes to lower-cost devices like the 12R. But at the same time, Samsung and Google have both extended software support recently, with both promising up to seven years of software backing for new flagships include the Galaxy S24 series and Pixel 8 phones.

Still, this doesn't appear to be something OnePlus seems to want to match, even in the future. "Simply offering longer software update policies completely misses the point," Liu said. "It's not just software update policies that are important to the user, it's the fluency of your phone's user experience too." In other words, extended software support isn't of much value if your phone's hardware can't keep up.

Liu turns to a good metaphor to explain this further. "Imagine your phone is a sandwich," he said. "Some manufacturers are now saying that the filling in their sandwich — their phone's software — will still be good to eat in seven years' time. But what they're not telling you is that the bread in the sandwich — the user experience — might be moldy after four years. Suddenly a seven-year software update policy doesn't matter, because the rest of your experience with the phone is terrible."

OnePlus 12R review
OnePlus 12R review

Liu also pointed to the company's testing with TÜV SUD, which stress tests its phones, including the OnePlus 12 and 12R, in a variety of ways to quickly simulate years of use. It's based on these results that OnePlus says it can guarantee its signature "fast and smooth" performance after four years of use.

That includes the phone's battery health, something else Liu says is important to consider when looking at software update policies. "When our competitors say their software policy will last seven years, remember that their phone's battery may not," he added.

Liu also cited findings published by Counterpoint Research that claimed Android users tend to upgrade their smartphone within four years of buying it. OnePlus' current offering lines up perfectly with this reported behavior, whereas Samsung and Google seem to be offering another three years of Android updates unnecessarily, at least for the majority of their customers. However, perhaps we'll see this trend change as users learn they can expect longer software support from their Android devices.

The OnePlus 12 is available for pre-orders until February 6, when it goes on open sale. The OnePlus 12R will remain available for pre-ordering until its slightly later February 13 launch date.

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