One of the biggest problems Android phone users face is the lack of prompt updates for their smartphones when the new version of the operating system is made available by Google. Those using phones that are not Pixel or Nexus-branded know this too well. That is what Google’s Project Treble is attempting to rectify once and for all.
The problem Project Treble would tackle is simply this: OEMs would now find it easy to push out the update to users of their devices in a very short time.
Up till this moment, only owners of Google’s Nexus phones and more recently the Pixel, get prompt update for a new software. Even major Android manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony and the others take up to six months before they push out these updates to their customers.
Understanding how Android updates work
Before one can fully appreciate the impact of something like Project Treble, the steps needed to update a single Android device must be understood.
There are five basic steps:
- The Android team responsible for developing a new operating system or an update to an existing OS, releases the finished open source codes to the public.
- The tech firms, like Qualcomm and Mediatek, that make chips on which the Android software is hosted, work on the codes to modify the software to work efficiently on their hardware.
- The chip makers pass on the modified chips with the new operating system to makers of Android devices. The chips are further modified to the manufacturers’ specifications.
- The OEMs then liaise with network providers and other vendors to test the devices with the new operating system on the networks. This is to make sure there are no glitches when the update is finally pushed out to smartphone users.
- Finally, OEMs push out the updates to the users.
From step one to five can take up to six months. Some OEMs even consider the process a waste of time and costs too much money. Which is why many OEMs don’t push out new updates to their customers. And even if they do, it takes a long time to finally get to users.
Project Treble, therefore, aims to cut the process down by eliminating the vendor phase of the process. Therefore with the new method, any new update would be cut down to just releasing the update to the manufacturers of handsets directly from the Android team.
It is now left for device manufacturers to determine how long they would test the new update before pushing it to their users. In theory, users can now get updates of new softwares almost as soon as it is announced.
Project Treble already in Pixel phones
The announcement of Project Treble specifically stated this new feature would be an integral part of Android O due to be released later this year.
However, Pixel phones already have the feature. Which means Pixels phones on Android Nougat would be updated easily to Android O when it comes out.
The hope is that all new Android Nougat phones produced this year would have the feature in them since the feature is already an integral part of the Android Nougat operating system.
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Not the nirvana Android users are hoping for
In theory and everything being equal, this should be a big solution for an endemic problem. Unfortunately, it is not going to be that straightforward in practice.
In the first instance, Google cannot force OEMs to release updates to consumers as soon as possible. When an update is released is still at the discretion of the manufacturers.
Manufacturers though, especially the small ones, are not sufficiently motivated to push out updates. Even though several steps have been eliminated, it would still cost them money to modify their devices and test the new software.
That affects their profits negatively.
A bigger concern on their future earnings is the fact that updating users old phones would predisposed users not to shell out money to buy new phones. OEMs need users to get brand new phones if they want to enjoy the latest operating system.
Secondly, Project Treble sounds like something we’ve heard before. At the 2011 Google developers I/O conference, the Android Update Alliance was announced as an initiative to address the problem of delayed updates and to ensure all Android devices get updates for at least one and a half years after production.
That was the only time the Android Update Alliance was officially heard of from Google. Since that announcement 6 years ago, nothing has changed. So it seems obvious that the initiative was buried even before it left the conceptual stage.
It is for that reason many people are not pinning too much hope on Project Treble. It could just go the way of Android Update Alliance.
Pixel phones could be the big winners
However, this feature could still be the thing to put the Pixel phone as the premier phone in the Android ecosystem competing favorably with the iPhone.
For now, all Google’s phones are limited to at most, 24 months of major updates from the launch date. Which means one must buy a new Google phone every two years to enjoy the latest Android OS.
Compare that with iPhone. Apple has up to five years of regular updates for their phones. Which means one can enjoy the latest iOS software on an iPhone that is five years old from the day it was launched.
The deal with Qualcomm and other chips makers is for them to change the hardware to support new updates for more than the present two years. Perhaps they could take it even beyond the five-year limit of the iPhone.
So any Project Treble enabled phone, especially the high-end Pixel brands, would be able to get updates every year for more than two years.
Perhaps, this would have an effect on other OEMs. At least, consumers can pressure them into enabling the feature in their phones or else they would not waste money purchasing the smartphones.
And to stay in business, the smaller OEMs would simply have to comply. And there won’t be any more excuses for not pushing updates to users as and when due.
Only time would make the picture clearer.