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Project Treble: Google’s plan to make Android updates quicker

Tired of waiting years for an Android update? Google is working on a solution to the problem.

Google updates its Android smartphone operating system every year. Android O is on the horizon, but has your phone even updated to Android N? It takes too long to get updates to Android smartphones and finally Google has a plan to fix that.

Google’s answer to the update roadblock is Project Treble, which completely retools the Android architecture making it easier for device manufacturers to update their phones.

Just 7.1% of the two billion active Android devices are running Android N, while around 360 million devices are still using Android K, which released in 2013. Project Treble is unlikely to be of any use to anyone still using KitKat, but the changes to the underlying Android architecture could help future phones from HTC, Samsung and LG stay up to date. The chart below shows how the vast majority of Android phone users are on out of date versions.

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How does Project Treble work?

To understand how Project Treble works it’s good to know why it needs to exist. Manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and HTC use Android in everything from their budget handsets to their flagship ranges. When Google announces a new version of Android the manufacturers begin the long process of adapting it to work with their phones.

  • First off, they need to determine which phones can handle the new OS. The latest phones shouldn’t have any problems, but older, less powerful models may have difficulty running the new features. Our own testing has discovered phones that get worse after an OS update, so slapping a new version of Android onto a manufacturers entire range isn’t a good idea. The sheer amount of time it takes to adapt a new OS to a phone means adding it to older phones just isn’t worth the hassle.
  • Phone manufacturers like to add their own special flavour to the stock Android OS. Samsung has TouchWiz, HTC has Sense, but whichever brand you go for there will be some kind of overlay. It takes time to get these extra features working with new versions of Android.
  • Once the manufacturers have adapted their overlays to work with the new OS there is a period of testing to ensure that there are no problems. Providers like Vodafone and EE run their own tests too, which causes further delays.
  • When the update is finally ready it will be released in selected countries. The staggered push of the update is a final test to see whether the new OS is working. By releasing it to countries with a smaller number of users, the manufacturers and networks can identify any last minute problems before they unleash it onto the millions of smartphones in the UK and America. Being a country of smartphone users we’re too risky for the first wave, but conversely we are a priority once the manufacturers are confident their phones behave themselves after the update.

Project Treble aims to cut down how long it takes to roll out updates by separating the Android operating system from the ‘Vendor interface’. This interface handles the mundane, but important, low-level software and drivers. Previously it would be up to device manufacturers to adapt the vendor interface, a laborious process of code rewriting.

Project Treble removes this lengthy process, which leaves the manufacturers free to work on the other aspects of the upgrade. We should get quicker updates and manufacturers may be keen on bringing the new software to older handsets in the future now the method is streamlined.

When can we expect speedier updates?

Here’s the catch to all this good news, only the Google Pixel is compatible with Project Treble, which means the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6 and HTC U11 will have the same update woes they’ve always had – bad news if you were looking to upgrade to a shiny new Android handset in 2017.

Despite the current crop of state-of-the-art handsets not being compatible, Project Treble is still a step in the right direction to eradicating one of Android most significant issues.

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