Android 11 gets us closer to Chrome-like updates for phones

Android 11 Hero
Android 11 Hero (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Google is making one of its best ideas mandatory with all phones shipping on Android 11 or later: seamless updates.

Seamless updates come from Chrome, and what it means is that you don't have any downtime while you're waiting for your phone to apply an update you've downloaded for it. It's a practice that came with Android 7 and has since been adopted by all major smartphone makers except Samsung.

How it works is pretty ingenious. Space is reserved on your phone and when an update is downloaded it unpacks into it. Once that's finished and you reboot your phone that reserved space becomes the new system file partition.

When the idea was first adopted there was some concern about the amount of space needed to do it. Most of us can identify with the problem of running out of space on our phones at least once, so it was natural to be worried that a fair chunk of the phone storage would be dedicated and reserved just for those times you're updating.

Since some people are still going to be concerned, let me say you needn't be. On the original Pixel, where the process was first applied, the reserved space was only 320MB in size according to Google. On top of that, you would actually gain 132MB of space by removing or reducing other partitions (recovery and cache) for a net 195MB loss. That's less than the size of many apps.

It only takes 320MB of space to hold an update for the Google Pixel.

Another more important benefit of seamless updates is how a copy of the old existing system partition is saved. When you install and update and reboot, the new partition is set to be active at the next boot but the original system partition isn't erased. Instead, it's marked as old but should the first boot fail, it once again becomes the active partition. This way your phone boots normally and you get a chance to try again in case the file you tried to install was corrupt or something went wrong during the process.

As mentioned, most phone makers already have adopted the idea of seamless updates with Samsung being a major holdout. Since Samsung makes up a large portion of total Android sales and the company has been getting much better at sending out security updates, it means a lot less downtime for a lot more people.

Safer and faster is just better.

Note that this only applies for phones shipping with Android 11 and not to phones that update to it. That means your next phone is likely to use the seamless update system no matter the brand. That's good news and means you're going to see faster and safer updates in the future!

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.