Google releases a new version of Android at least once a year, but the overwhelming majority of users won’t see that update for many months–if they see the updates at all. The latest Android dashboard report, released on 2 May, shows that the latest versions of Android Nougat (7.0 and 7.1) are running on just 7.1% of all Android smartphones. About 32% of smartphones are still running on two-year-old Android Marshmallow (5.0 and 5.1) versions.
Apple has greater control over iOS as it controls the entire device ecosystem.
How Android update works now
After Google releases the open source code for the latest version of Android, it is modified by the chipmaker for the specific hardware. This modified version of the new release is then passed on to the OEMs who make further changes in the release to accommodate their custom UIs over them.
Every time Google releases a new update, both OEMs and chipmakers have to make sure that the update works with the custom UI as well as the smartphone’s hardware. This makes providing updates a costly and time-consuming process which most OEMs want to avoid.
Enter Project Treble
With Project Treble, Google is making some key changes to Android’s system architecture. These changes will show up with the upcoming version of Android, codenamed Android O. More information is expected on it at the Google I/O conference which begins on 17 May.
The objective is to lessen the involvement of chipmakers for updates and provide more control to the OEMs. This will make it less costly and easier for OEMs to update their existing smartphones to the new OS.
To accomplish this, Google will create a vendor interface called VTS (Vendor Test Suite) for OEMs on similar lines as the CTS (Compatibility Test Suite) for software developers. CTS is a platform which allows apps developers to write a single app for different devices running on different hardware. It is one of the reasons why app updates are so easily available on most smartphones.
With VTS, now OEMs will be able to directly access the hardware specific parts, update the Android framework and release a new update to the end-user faster.
What it means for users
With Project Treble, OEMs will have more control over the software updates. This should result in faster updates for the end-user. However, OEMs who overlay the original Android software with their own custom UIs will still have to run tests before making these updates compatible with their custom UI. If the UI is too complex, the update may still get delayed.