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article imageProject Treble will try to fix Android's broken update model

By James Walker     May 18, 2017 in Technology
Google has announced a new initiative that could go a long way to resolving Android's longstanding update issues. The fragmented nature of the ecosystem leaves it up to individual manufacturers to release updates, meaning many phones never receive them.
The problems with Android's update structure have gained attention over the past couple of years in the wake of major cyberattacks targeting vulnerabilities in the operating system. Although Google releases patches on a monthly basis, most owners don't ever see them arrive on their handset. This puts them at risk from well-known threats.
When an update is developed, Google passes it to its silicon manufacturing partners. This gives companies like Qualcomm – the firm that makes the processors inside most phones – the time to adapt it for their architecture.
Android update release cycle
Android update release cycle
The modified package is then passed onto the hardware manufacturer, such as Samsung or LG. It's customised again to suit each specific phone before being handed over to network carriers for technical acceptance. Only when this is complete will the update be delivered to customer phones.
Because there are so many stages in the sequence, there's a lot of opportunity for delays to be introduced. Many hardware manufacturers don't update their handsets anyway, often because they produce so many that they don't have time to build update packages each month. Faced with criticism from the media and customers, Google itself has become frustrated in recent months and signalled it wants to put an end to the situation.
Project Treble - Android s structure before Treble
Project Treble - Android's structure before Treble
Project Treble addresses the fundamental issues in Android's structure that have historically created the current mess. In essence, the way Android is built means a lot of the code is specific to individual handsets. Whenever an update needs to be delivered, the manufacturer has a lot of work to do to repackage its specific components.
With Treble, Google has rearchitected Android to use a different formula. The vendor-specific code is now separated from Android's core. Google can make changes without touching the hardware manufacturer's code, allowing it to release updates without getting approval first. It's an approach that iOS and Windows have been using for years.
Project Treble - Android s structure with Treble
Project Treble - Android's structure with Treble
The significant effort marks the largest reorganisation of core Android code to date. Google has introduced a new sub-system to allow vendor code to exist independently of the system. It runs similarly to how the app layer operates. In the same way that apps run across millions of different devices, Android itself now supports a range of different vendor-specific interfaces to the hardware it runs on.
The effect of these changes should mean more frequent and reliable updates for future Android phones. If manufacturers withhold patches, Google will be able to circumvent getting their approval and release the update anyway. Users will be protected against security threats and new features could be delivered faster.
Project Treble will be available on all new devices running Android O. It's already included in the Android O Developer Preview 2 launched yesterday on Pixel phones. Although it's not a complete solution, Treble could help to solve one of Android's biggest lingering issues. There's still work to do but Google seems to have been spurred into action to make updates meaningful.
More about Google, Android, android o, project treble, Updates
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