With Android O and Project Treble, Google is Finally Reviewing Its Management of Updates in Depth.

What if manufacturers could update Android without adapting it to each device? This is what Google is proposing with its Project Treble, which is supposed to separate the mobile system from the low-level layers specific to each terminal. In theory, this should accelerate the expansion of new versions from Android O.

The promise is almost as old as Android. Google has posted a blog post to introduce Project Treble, an initiative to (further) speed up Android updates. Introduced with Android O, planned for this summer, the project consists of separating the Android system from the modifications specific to each device, to improve the system without systematically readapting it to the terminals.

Available since August 2016, Android Nougat is present on only 7.1% of Android terminals. The reason? Google considers that switching from one device to each major version is “very expensive and time-consuming ” for manufacturers. To remedy this situation, Project Treble is being touted as the ” largest ever low-level Android runtime modification”. However, the system has already become quite modular over the years.

The update cycle of a device under Android is long, according to Google itself. For reference, some manufacturers promise a transposition of new versions within three months, which is presented as a fast cycle. It must be said that there are many steps: once the open source version of Android (AOSP) is released, chip manufacturers adapt it to their hardware, before sending the revised version to terminal manufacturers.

They modify this version for each terminal, in particular to integrate in-house functions. They then test them with the operators, possibly adding applications, before releasing the update. A tanning process for the entire sector, which is supposed to be repeated at least every year.

An Android update from open source to client – Credits: Google

Google therefore wants to take over the model of applications, compatible with all devices via a single code base. The idea: separate the manufacturer implementation (which is designed specifically for chips) from the Android system framework. For this purpose, the company is introducing a ” manufacturer interface ” to link the two, with a Vendor Test Suite (VTS).

This should make it possible to update the system without affecting the manufacturer-specific implementation. The specific part of each object, which does not move, interacts with the new version of the system via the ” interface manufacturer“, which arranges itself to ensure compatibility with the new version of Android.

An already modularised system

This is not Google’s first effort in terms of modularity. A large part of the components are already updated without changing the system version. Google’s (proprietary) applications, the home screen, the WebView system or the SMS application can be upgraded without any changes to the system.

Despite the Project Treble, there is still an important thorn in Google’s side: Android-specific modifications for each device or operator. The Mountain View group plans to integrate these changes directly into the Android Open Source Project, working on the issue with market players.

In November, the documentation for manufacturers already mentioned Android Extensions. These could make it possible to individually update some bricks of the system, without going through a complete overhaul of Android.

The group takes the example of Qualcomm and Sony who have integrated in-house patches directly into the OSAP, so that they don’t have to adapt them to each new version of the system. It already publishes the OS pre-versions several months in advance, to speed up the work of the partners.

Project Treble should appear on future devices, delivered under Android O. It is already in place on Pixel phones with the new version of the system. The complete documentation is to be released with the next major release, scheduled for the summer.

Let’s now hope that this project will result in something concrete, not like the (many) past attempts.

Published on May 15, 2017 at 11:01 am




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