Avoid these Google Play Store apps that promise to update your Android phone

Apps in the Google Play Store purport to upgrade your phone to Android 9.0 Pie, but an app cannot perform that task.

Open-source LineageOS 16 based on Android 9.0 Pie improves privacy and security Phones supporting LineageOS can enjoy a cleaner, more predictable Android experience with security patches often delivered faster than the default Android version on many phones.

Apps in the Google Play Store from unscrupulous developers that purport to upgrade your phone to Android 9.0 Pie or older versions have been spotted by Android Police. Some of the apps, which are predictably named things like "Update to Android P - 9.0" or "Updates for Samsung," are designed to ensnare users searching inside the Google Play Store for updates to their phones, though the Play Store does not handle OS updates.

SEE: Mobile device security: A guide for business leaders (Tech Pro Research)

Installing these apps in the hopes of receiving a platform update is likely a good way to wind up bombarded with advertisements, spyware, or malware—the latter is a persistent problem in the Play Store, though Google has been historically responsive in removing malicious apps when notified.

How can I get Android OS updates for unsupported phones?

There are aftermarket, third-party Android ROMs, like LineageOS, that provide the latest version of Android for select phones, though these third-party ROMs lack the same visual theming of the stock Android installation provided by the device OEM. (Most users of third-party ROMs cite this as a benefit.)

Building and installing alternative ROM for a phone is not like wiping and reinstalling Windows, or wiping Windows from a computer to install Linux, in which the installation image (like a DVD ISO or USB stick) is the same for every device you want to use it with. LineageOS and other aftermarket Android ROMs generally must be built on a per-device basis, with some devices having multiple variants for different regions or carriers. Treble-based images do exist, though these can have inconsistent performance and support for different devices.

The process of installing LineageOS is slightly involved, taking about an hour of effort to accomplish. For an example, check out TechRepublic's guide to installing LineageOS 16 on the OnePlus 5T.

Plenty of blame to go around for the lack of OS updates

Ultimately, Android device manufactures are responsible for providing OS updates for phones and tablets. Initiatives from Google like Project Treble are intended to reduce the amount of engineering work required by OEMs to deliver software updates to phones, though Treble is still too new to meaningfully measure update speed for devices moving from 8.0 (Oreo) to 9.0 (Pie).

Mysteriously, Google stopped providing information about Android version distribution after October 2018, with the distribution dashboard tersely noting "update coming soon: data feed under maintenance." For the last available data, less than 0.1% of Android devices were using 9.0, despite it being available for nearly three months by that point.

For more information about what to expect from the upcoming Android Q, check out this TechRepublic article.

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By James Sanders

James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.