Android’s update situation is notoriously bad, with even flagship phones like the Galaxy series taking months for the latest feature updates to come out. Google hasn’t stood still on this though, and its hard work with Project Treble is starting to pay off.
What is Project Treble?
Up until last year, building an Android update took much more effort. Here’s what had to happen with each update, no matter how small:
- Google builds the new update and adds it to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) repository.
- Silicon vendors like Qualcomm and MediaTek would add in and test code so that their processors would support the new software version.
- Hardware vendors like Samsung and LG add in and test code to support other hardware in the phone and their own software features.
Project Treble simplifies that a bit. Starting with phones that shipped with Android 8.0 Oreo, the silicon vendor code can be separate from the hardware vendor code. Instead of Qualcomm, MediaTek and other SOC-makers needing to write new drivers for each and every update, the driver interface can be used on newer versions of Android and still work. Samsung, LG, and other device manufacturers don’t have to wait for this code to start their work on the update, meaning it gets rolled out to consumers that much faster.
It was optional for phones that were updated to Oreo to be compliant with Treble, but with Pie that goes away: every phone that receives an update to Android Pie must be compatible with Treble.
It’s Starting to Working
After a year of use, Project Treble is already starting to pay off: Google expects more devices to be updated to Android 9.0 Pie by the end of this year than were updated to Android 8.0 Oreo by the end of 2017. At the 2018 Android Dev Summit, Google showed off multiple phones from different hardware vendors that were able to run on the exact same Generic System Image (GSI).
Showing the GSI running on all these different phones is a great testament to how well Treble works, and application developers can use the GSI to test app compatibility with Android Pie on a device that hasn’t been officially updated by its manufacturer.
That’s all well and good if you’re an app developer, but if you’re the average consumer it may be hard to care. But what it boils down to is this: it’s likely that your phone will receive a software update faster because some of the work to get that update out can be skipped. This also makes providing the update cheaper for the phone manufacturer, giving them more incentive to support older devices.
But it’s Still Not Perfect
While these improvements are great, if fast updates are the most important factor for you, there are still only a handful of manufacturers to choose from. Google’s Pixel phones would be the fastest, but Android One phones like Nokia’s line aren’t far behind. We’ll see if the Treble improvements help any, but Samsung has a tendency to hold onto software updates until the next Galaxy S phone is released, which means users have to wait until Spring to see platform updates.
While it’s not perfect, Project Treble has already made a big improvement in the Android ecosystem, and it’ll mean your phone gets updated that much faster!