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Google's Project Treble will make Android updates faster for all devices

It's just five days until the Google I/O keynote but the company can't help itself: it has pre-announced what could be one of the most important changes to Android since its inception.

Called Treble, the project involves making it easier for Android manufacturers and carriers to roll out updates to their devices by creating a set of tests aimed at the vendors that create the components inside phones, tablets and anything else running Android. From Google:

Project Treble aims to do what CTS did for apps, for the Android OS framework. The core concept is to separate the vendor implementation - the device-specific, lower-level software written in large part by the silicon manufacturers - from the Android OS Framework. This is achieved by the introduction of a new vendor interface between the Android OS framework and the vendor implementation. The new vendor interface is validated by a Vendor Test Suite (VTS), analogous to the CTS, to ensure forward compatibility of the vendor implementation.

Like the CTS, or Compatibility Test Suite, the VTS will ensure that all the chips inside the phone, from the SoC to the baseband to the tiny little sensors that let our phones do amazing things, work properly when Google releases a new version of Android.

Here's the amazing part: Treble will allow the Samsungs, LGs and Huaweis of the world to push out updates without having to rely on the Qualcomms and Broadcoms to make large changes to the underlying core Android framework.

With a stable vendor interface providing access to the hardware-specific parts of Android, device makers can choose to deliver a new Android release to consumers by just updating the Android OS framework without any additional work required from the silicon manufacturers.

Google says that all phones and tablets running Android O and later will incorporate Project Treble, and that the first Android O Developer Preview already has it, waiting patiently for the VTS to roll out.

The company has been working towards this day for a long time, from splitting the carrier and vendor updates into separate partitions in Android M to making it easier for manufacturers and carriers to roll out specific, core OS updates with Android N.

Finally, Google is working with those same companies to entice them to bring core Android changes and bug fixes — from country and carrier-specific improvements to actual features — and bring them into the Android Open Source Project. Not only will this make Android more stable from the get-go, it will allow manufacturers to compete less on software differentiation than hardware, hopefully improving the experience for everyone.

While we'll likely learn more next week at Google I/O, what remains to be seen is whether manufacturers will work with Google and the component vendors to ensure this process is smooth, or even whether Google will enforce the VTS the way it currently does the CTS. Lots more to come, so stay tuned to Android Central for all the details!

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

24 Comments
  • Why not give it another shot, every IO we see something like this saying updates will be faster etc. We will see next year how this one goes.
  • So looks like OEMs will have to come up with the new excuse to not update their phones...the carrier delays were lies because all their WIFI tablets and unlocked mobiles are also years behind on Android updates.
  • "Waiting for Qualcomm and Broadcom" is not an excuse that handset makers ever really used, so it's curious to me why anyone would think that this Project Treble will actually make any difference.
  • Waiting for Mediatek is pretty common. They are the worst in this. Qualcomm is pretty good though.
  • Yeah, but most Mediatek devices don't get updated because the OEMs just don't care, not because of delays by Mediatek. Mediatek processors almost always end up in cheap devices that never get updates because they're cheap and the OEMs don't care to support them. They won't get updated either way.
  • True that.
    Mediatek is always late for supporting the latest Android version for their processors though.
  • Trying to claim carrier delays were lies is total rubbish. It was truth. All you had to do was look at international and unlocked variants. Or are you too stupid to do so?
  • Windows Phone were doing that for the past 2 years ... that why I loved my Lumia 950... but alas, Its an S7 now...
  • I wish more developers got behind it. Windows phone os was pretty solid.
  • Yeah, next year we'll be just as disappointed I'm sure. The handset makers (and carriers, where applicable) are the ones who are still in charge of updates, and this does nothing to actually make it easier or cheaper to roll out updates. This just means that they don't have to wait for Qualcomm, etc., to do anything, they can just not support their devices on their own terms. It's not like Motorola was waiting as Qualcomm dragged their feet, and that's why the 2nd-gen Moto E and all the carrier Moto X's got dropped Those phones didn't get updated because Lenovo didn't feel like putting in the effort. This doesn't change that.
  • Yep. This is a solution put forth by engineers who think what we have is an engineering problem. The real problem is that OEM's and carriers have no interest in pushing updates to older devices. The goal of these companies is to sell new phones, and keeping people's current phones up to date works against that effort. It's called planned obsolescence. Apple does it because, for them, it's easier to apply an update back to their older hardware, since not a lot changes from one year to another. For a company like Samsung, they have many different models released over any given year, so doing updates is more complex, and, again, they want you to run out and buy a new phone as soon as your current one starts to feel a little stale.
  • Apple updates their devices because it's good for their ecosystem. The reason why all developers target Apple devices first is because when Apple introduces new features and APIs, developers know that those new features will be available on 90% of Apple devices within a month. Customers actually like the fact that each year when a new iPhone comes out, their old iPhone will be able to run the exact same software as the new one. There's less incentive to upgrade every year, because a new iPhone isn't that much better than an old one, and customers like that their phone lasts a long time.
    It's not easier for Apple to support their devices than for other OEMs to do the same. Remember, Apple develops their own OS, while other OEMs get to rely on Google to do 90% of the R&D work to develop new features, and their hardware partners to handle all the drivers. OEMs don't care about updates because its not their ecosystem. They make money when you buy a new phone, and that's it. They don't bring new features to old devices, because why then would you upgrade?
  • +10 Don't forget, Apple also makes their own processors.
  • Welp I'm waiting on nougat.
  • I think I remember hearing Jerry talk in a podcast about this back when Nougat came out. I think he had looked at the changes and was seeing the beginnings of this effort. Really cool to see the announcement reflecting what he talked about back then (maybe a year ago). Anyone else remember this?
  • I vaguely remember last night!
  • Anything that helps speed up the update process is a win. This probably means a lot of phones that are on Nougat now will never officially see the O update, because OEMs don't want to deal with updating more devices.
  • We've been here before. Hopefully this will help with carriers being horrible with upgrades. Now, onto something funnier: what will Android O be? Oreo? Omega? (sounds badass...), Opera? (it's a chocolate cake.
  • Carriers will still find a way to gum up the works. Google needs to punt them out of the update process entirely.
  • My unlocked UK Galaxy S6 is still waiting on Nougat update, yet some UK carriers variants have had it already
  • Here is to hoping but I doubt it will make a difference in the long run. Always nice to hope though.
  • They're solving the wrong problem... at least from the end user perspective. Treble will make it easier for OEMs to get *new* devices out. But that's never really been the problem. In fact, OEMs have no financial incentive to stay current because most of them slap a layer over Android anyway... and new features on new versions of Android are at best a crap shoot as to whether or not they're implemented, hidden or replaced while you're distracted with all the features the OEM decided to glue in. Most people don't want to buy a new phone or tablet every time a new version of Android comes out. Most people actually don't even care which version of the OS is running on their phone as long as the apps they want work. Guess what - a lot of (if not most) people don't even care about the security patches. So the hierarchy is "don't bother changing it", "upgrade the OS" then "upgrade the phone". Ironically, even Google and their Nexus/Pixel phones prove this point. Nexus phones were only good for 18 months. Pixels, 24 months (maybe). There was a point where Google could have fixed this - but with every OEM wanting to slap their own coat of paint on their phones - I think this is a lost cause. When Google makes their own phone from start to end, as Apple does, only then (and only for those phones) will Google have a quick to upgrade device.
  • I don't think carriers or OEMs will want this if it can potentially stop them adding their own bloatware. This might lead to "O" being installed on fewer new phones and OEMs sticking with N. Then we will probably be left with only Pixel phones coming with O.
  • Even with a healthy dose of scepticism, this is still a noble and very necessary effort. Removing any friction in the update pipelines, particularly for security updates, is an absolute necessity for the future. If ever we needed a timely reminder why updates have ascended beyond commodity to necessity, the ransomware plague hitting Microsoft Windows is surely it.