Android updAtes: no longer for the privileged
The silent, yet massive changes to how Android handles smartphone updates will benefit both premium and low-end devices. It couldn’t come at a better time.
The difficulty in updating Android
Aftermarket Android phone users would be painfully aware of how slow and challenging it is to get the latest version of the OS onto their devices. In fact, only 15 percent of all Android phones out there are running Android 7.0 (the latest firmware at the time of writing), which is abysmal when compared to 79 percent of iOS users running the latest version of the OS on their mobiles.
Traditionally, Android updates follow this pattern: they hand over updates to chipmakers like Qualcomm, who create the software drivers to support them. These drivers are handed off to brands like Samsung, LG, HTC, and Huawei (to name a few) to layer their reskins and features (like Samsung and its Edge Panel UI) before passing the baton to network carriers for distribution. This process can take months, with many devices never seeing a major update from the time it is released in retail.
Enter Google’s solution, Project Treble. Instead of waiting on big consumer tech brands to do the right thing, Android directly talks to the silicon manufacturing companies that make the chips for these aftermarket phones. Any changes to Android are done at a new level called ‘vendor interface’, beginning from Android 8.0 (Oreo) phones. The silicon manufacturers don’t need to recompile drivers for updates because Android’s going to do it for them.
To address low-end phones not receiving support early into its lifespan, Google decided to get to the root of the issue, whereby they take over the decision-making and hardware selection, so updates reach stock Android sooner. In fact, there’s already four generations of such Android One phones, with the latest being Xiaomi Mi A1. The only problem is that the availability of the Android One program is still very limited.