Google wants to solve the Android update problem once and for all with Project Treble

The new Android O feature aims to make it easier for manufacturers to deliver timely OS updates to their phones.

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If there’s one thing we hate about our non-Pixel Android phones, it’s the lack of regular and speedy updates. Whenever a new version of Android comes out, even just a small one, it takes LG, Samsung, Sony, HTC, and everyone else months to push out an update to their latest phones. And if you don’t have a flagship phone, you’re lucky to get an update at all. But a major change coming to Android O might make our hand-wringing a thing of the past.

In a post on its developer’s blog, Google unveiled a sneak peek at Project Treble, which it says is “the biggest change to the low-level system architecture of Android to date.” In a nutshell, it aims to significantly lessen the burden on third-party phone manufacturers so they can deliver updates in a timely fashion.

All about that Treble: While we still have a long time to wait to see if Project Treble actually does what Google says it will, for the first time since Android launched, we have hope. By removing much of the legwork required by manufacturers to push out a new update to Android, devices that ship with Android O should have a much easier time adhering to Google’s security and version upgrade schedule. 

Treble yell

As Google describes, the current process is enormously time-consuming, forcing phone makers to not only update their own implementation but also Google’s OS framework. Basically, there are five steps to follow each time a new version of Android is released:

  1. The Android team publishes the open-source code for the latest release to the world.
  2. Silicon manufacturers, the companies that make the chips that power Android devices, modify the new release for their specific hardware.
  3. Silicon manufacturers pass the modified new release to device makers—the companies that design and manufacture Android devices. Device makers modify the new release again as needed for their devices.
  4. Device makers work with carriers to test and certify the new release.
  5. Device makers and carriers make the new release available to users.

Under the new system, Google is boiling those steps down to just one. The core concept involves separating the vendor implementation, which is the device-specific software written in large part by the silicon manufacturers, from the Android OS Framework. Starting with new devices that ship with Android O, Google will introduce a new “vendor interface” between Android and the unique device implementations that will provide access to the hardware-specific parts of Android. That means device makers will be able to push out new Android releases “without any additional work required from the silicon manufacturers.”

google project treble Google

Project Treble lets device manufacturers focus only on the parts of Android that affect their phones.

Google is basing the system on its Compatibility Test Suite, the system that allows developers to push a single app to hundreds of different phones and tablets, regardless of screen size and hardware. As Google describes, “Project Treble aims to do what CTS did for apps, for the Android OS framework.”

In addition to the architectural changes, Google is working with its partners to move their code changes into the common Android Open Source Project codebase. As Google describes, Sony and Qualcomm have already contributed “dozens of features and hundreds of bug fixes to Android O,” so they won’t have to redo their work with each new Android release.

Google plans to publish the full documentation for Project Treble on with the launch of O later this summer. But we expect to hear a lot more about it at Google I/O next week. 

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