For the Android enthusiasts among us, Google's announcement of Project Treble felt like a message straight from the heavens. The new system, coming in Android O, lays the groundwork for Android devices to have proper separation between the core of Android and the necessary (and unnecessary) customizations device manufacturers need to apply before sending out software updates. Functionally, it means Google can update its own parts of Android without disturbing the OEM interface on top or the low-level device-specific firmware underneath. Reaction on Twitter and in the comments of our articles took this announcement as a sign that the utopian future of Android updates is finally here.
Looking at the details a bit closer and thinking about how this will actually play out in the real world with real companies, though, you start to bring yourself back down to earth a bit. The first issue is that because of the massive change in overall architecture, this isn't something that is likely to come to any devices released before 2017 — it requires a complete partition change, and that's not something you want to mess with by just sending out an OTA. Some of the big flagships of the year may be able to have Project Treble with their Android O update, but that's not a guarantee — and we may see devices released throughout the year that don't ever get it.
Perhaps the biggest thing that will bring people back down to earth with Project Treble is realizing exactly what Google can and can't change without the device maker's intervention. Project Treble being integrated into a phone does not mean that the device maker's "skin" is somehow easily removable or no longer part of the device — it's still there, looking as it always did, even if Google pushes out an under-the-hood platform update. Project Treble simply creates an abstraction layer to separate the parts Google can change from everything else — it doesn't get rid of the manufacturer's customizations entirely.
Project Treble is super important, but primarily in the long run.
And that brings into play what is likely the most substantial hurdle here: the manufacturers themselves are still involved. They're just simply not critical to the process of Google updating the parts of the software it will now have control over. That's a good thing! It means that Samsung or Qualcomm doesn't necessarily have to be involved with Google pushing out a new feature or a security patch. But at the same time, you're still going to be waiting on Samsung, Moto, HTC, LG or Huawei (and hey, probably your carrier) to push out new user-facing interface changes — that in no way changes with Project Treble.
With all that being said, Project Treble is an extremely important change to the way Android works and will have huge influence on the Android experience. The ability for Google to push out software updates unilaterally that improve security or standardize phones on a single implementation of a feature is a big deal going forward. Just because this change doesn't signal the death of manufacturer interface customizations doesn't mean it can't have a big impact on how we use our Androids in the future.
And with that, a few random thoughts:
- HTC is about to drop its new flagship, expectedly called the U 11, on Tuesday — the launch event is at an ... inconvenient time of 2 a.m. ET, as it's happening in Taipei.
- After a frustratingly weak showing with the U Ultra and U Play, here's hoping HTC can get a few things right and make a dent of some size with the U 11.
- I'm still using the Galaxy S8, and I've actually found a nice super-thin case that works for me — bonus being how much better it makes the fingerprint sensor.
- Also actually bringing the Galaxy Tab S3 and its keyboard case on my current trip. Much easier to use on a plane than a laptop, and more compact than a Pixel C.
- Google I/O kicks off on Wednesday, and if this big Project Treble announcement is any indication we should be in for some really interesting news out of the conference.
- That being said, a lot of the magic of I/O happens behind the scenes rather than in the headlines — developers and device makers learn so much from the conference, and the fruits of those discussions come later on.
That's it for now — have a great week, everyone.