Google will be forcing Samsung and other OEMs to provide users with seamless updates starting with Android 11. That's thanks to a policy change that the company is reportedly enforcing with regards to a partitioning feature added back in 2016. Specifically, the company will now force OEMs from Android 11 onward to utilize A/B virtual partitioning to enable seamless updates.
In effect, the feature creates both an inactive and active Android partition on a given handset — partitions 'A' and 'B'. The inactive portion, during an update, is filled with the latest firmware. Then, the OS essentially switches between the two to provide a quicker, safer update. The prior installation remains in place, but the partition it was placed on is rendered inactive.
What does the seamless updates policy have to do with Samsung and other Android OEMs?
Google's new policy for seamless updates follows other efforts made by the search giant to improve its OS going forward. For instance, the company has been working closely with component manufacturers such as Qualcomm to provide driver updates and other firmware improvements. Those would, it's hoped, arrive outside of the usual update cycle.
As a result, users wouldn't be stuck waiting on OEMs for updates that will arrive long after new versions of Android have released — if they arrive at all. But enforcement of partitioning for seamless updates from Android 11 forward has different implications altogether. Specifically, it has implications for some of the biggest OEMs around.
Samsung, for example, doesn't currently participate in the A/B partitioning outlined above. Instead, it and other OEMs often rely on a firmware download and the built-in recovery process. That means a more direct replacement of the current OS, requiring longer installs and downtime.
The partitioning also acts to prevent major damage from OS installation errors. The system can fall back on the previous OS partition instead. That updating method also gives users and OEMs a quick way to roll back any updates that have been launched with major errors.
Google has enabled A/B virtual partitions since Android 7.0 Nougat, back in 2016. In the past four years, that hasn't been widely adopted outside of select manufacturers. Now, OEMs will effectively be forced to utilize the partitions, taking some strain out of the updating process. Otherwise, they won't be able to certify their Android handsets.
Only new devices will be forced to participate
The policy change from Google on seamless updates for Android isn't going to necessarily apply to every device right away. Instead, this will only be enforced for newly-certified devices from Android 11 onward.
That has a couple of implications but the most prominent applies to devices that have already been released with an older version of Android. Those that don't already offer seamless updates likely won't ever see the benefit. Users on those devices will need to buy a brand new Android 11 handset to get those.
Android 11, meanwhile, isn't set to land for some time still. The final beta build will arrive in Q3 2020. That means that the devices impacted by the change will mostly arrive from 2021 and later.