Google has been working for years to make Android updates better and faster. That is one of the common complaints with Android right now, and the main reason most people buy a Pixel (or a Nexus, before 2016). That is because Pixel smartphones get updates straight from Google. But Google debuted a new "project" last year that is meant to help improve the frequency of Android updates, and that is Project Treble. Google announced today that it expects to see more devices running Android 9 Pie at the end of 2018, than Android 8.0 Oreo at the end of 2017. And so far, that does appear to be happening. Many smartphones have already launched the Android Pie update for their devices. Including Essential, OnePlus and Sony, to name a few, and Samsung is starting its beta for Android 9 Pie today. Now this claim was made last year though, when Project Treble was announced and rolled out with Oreo. But the difference is that now all Android Pie or later smartphones will be Treble-compliant, as it is now a requirement. With Android Oreo it was not a requirement, and many smartphone makers opted not to include this updated framework.
At the Android Dev Summit last week, Google showed off a number of different Android smartphones running the Generic System Image, or GSI. This is built from the latest available AOSP source code, so it is truly stock Android, and it also includes the latest bug fixes contributed from the OEMs. Manufacturers already use the GSI to validate the implementation of the vendor interface on their devices. Now, Android app developers will be able to use the GSI to test out their own apps on different Android devices. This is going to make it easier for Android developers to really get their apps ready for new versions of Android, even before they launch.
Background: Project Treble isn't the first thing that Google has tried, in making software updates faster. It tried doing an alliance many years ago that would bring about faster updates to users. It also debuted Google Play Services, which was a framework for all Google-certified Android devices, and it was used to push out new features, bug fixes and even fix some exploits, without needing to push out a whole new version of Android. But it seems that Project Treble is the most successful so far. Google isn't promising same-day software updates for other smartphones, as with the Pixels, but it is promising faster updates. Of course, doing the beta program for the new versions of Android do definitely help Google there, especially this year where it had a number of its partners join in on the beta program – including Sony, OnePlus, Xiaomi and others.
Software updates will always be Android's downfall. And the reason why these updates take so long is because Android is used by everyone and everything. Smartphones that have skins like those from Samsung, LG and HTC, are going to take longer because those manufacturers need to work on that software and integrate it with their skin. For example, Samsung actually entirely reworked its skin and renamed it "One UI" with Android 9 Pie, which obviously required a lot of work, and thus it's taking longer to roll out Android Pie. But even with that rework of its own UI, Samsung is starting the Beta for Android Pie earlier than it did for Android Oreo last year – and it's available for many more devices – which is a start. On top of optimizing these updates for skins, manufacturers also need to get them certified. Google needs to certify the update, and so does the carriers – particularly in the US. This is why updates take so long, there are so many moving parts. Now Apple still needs to get their updates certified by carriers, but since they are building the update, that's the only certification that they need. They also get that done all ahead of time before even announcing an update. Which is how iOS is able to roll out much faster than Android. There's only a handful of different iPhones out there, while there are thousands of different Android smartphone models out there now.
Impact: Many had high expectations for Project Treble and that includes Google. But the fact that many manufacturers were opting to leave Project Treble support out of their Android Oreo updates last year was a big issue, and virtually rendered Project Treble useless for Google. Now it is a requirement for manufacturers, which is indeed a good thing for Google, as it's going to be able to get these updates out there faster. And while Project Treble only launched last year, we are already seeing the fruits of its labor. So far, many more smartphones have updated and launched with Android Pie, then any other version of Android at this time after launch. Smartphones like the Sony Xperia XZ3, OnePlus 6T and the Huawei Mate 20 lineup all launched with Android Pie, and there were nearly a dozen other smartphones updated to Android Pie already. Though, Android Pie still doesn't appear on the monthly distribution chart, which is a bit surprising, given the number of devices running Pie now.
Project Treble doesn't appear to be able to completely fix the issue of software updates on Android for Google, but it is making these updates faster, and that is what is important right now. Updates have always been an issue, in fact, we are still seeing some devices getting their Oreo update now, over a year after it launched. Which is pretty pathetic. Not only do users want the latest and greatest version of Android, but it's important for everyone to be updated, for security reasons. Older versions of Android are not patched as well as the newer versions. And that is because Google found some issues that it fixed in later models. And with a nearly two-year-old version of Android being the most popular, that means that many Android users are not safe from getting hacked or having something happen to their phone. Project Treble will fix that though.