Since time immemorial, the Android ecosystem has made quickly updating an operating system across devices seem like an impossible task. Google releases a new version of Android, and while Nexus and Pixel devices get updated, other Android OEMs mostly shrug their shoulders and go about their business.
If users are lucky, they might get an OS update six months down the line, at which point Google has already moved on to an even newer version of Android. Ahead of Google I/O, Google has just dropped a bombshell of a blog post that promises, for real this time, that it is finally doing something about Android’s update problems.
“Project Treble” is a plan to modularise the Android OS, separating the OS framework code from “vendor specific” hardware code. In theory, this change would allow for a new Android update to be flashed on a device without any involvement from the silicon vendor.
Google calls it “the biggest change to the low-level system architecture of Android to date,” and it’s already live on the Google Pixel’s Android O Developer Preview.
This is not a magic bullet that will solve all of Android’s update problems, however. After an update is released, Google lists three steps to creating an Android update:
1). Silicon manufacturers (Qualcomm, Samsung Exynos, etc) “modify the new release for their specific hardware” and do things like make sure drivers and power management will still work.
2). OEMs (Samsung, LG, HTC) step in and “modify the new release again as needed for their devices. ” This means making sure all the hardware works, rebranding Android with a custom skin, adding OEM apps, and modifying core parts of the Android OS to add special features like (before 7.0) multi-window support.
3). Carriers add more apps, more branding, and “test and certify the new release.”
Project Treble is only addressing “step 1.” Google and silicon manufacturers have finally created a stable “vendor interface” that the hardware and OS can plug into, a move we’ve suggested implementing in the past.
Just as Google has OEMs pass a “Compatibility Test Suite” (CTS) that ensures that third-party Android apps can run on their OS implementation, silicon vendors will now have a “Vendor Test Suite” (VTS) that ensures “forward compatibility of the vendor implementation.”
Google says that VTS-compliant vendors can “choose to deliver a new Android release to consumers by just updating the Android OS framework without any additional work required from the silicon manufacturers.”