Google unveiled Project Treble, stating it is “re-architecting Android to make it easier, faster and less costly” for vendors to update devices to a new version of the platform.

This has been one of the big issues with Android: according to Google figures, in the week to 2 May 2017, some 32 per cent of visits to Google Play were from devices running Android 5.x (a platform dating from 2014), with 31.2 per cent Android 6.x (2015) and just 7.1 per cent using the latest Android 7.x releases.

Android 4.4 (KitKat), unveiled in 2013, still contributes 18.8 per cent.

With many manufacturers somewhat tardy with their updates, the adoption of a new version of Android is still closely tied to the device upgrade cycle, as new smartphones are brought to market using the later version of the platform.

This is a marked difference from Apple’s activities with iOS, where updates are made broadly available for existing device owners (the latest version of iOS is available for devices as far back as the iPhone 5 from 2012).

Treble changes
Project Treble will split the vendor implementation of Android – device specific, lower-level software written in large part by 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, which is validated by a framework to ensure forward compatibility.

In future, device makers will be able to choose to deliver a new Android release to users by updating the Android OS framework, without the need for additional work by silicon manufacturers.

Project Treble will come to new devices “with Android O and beyond”, and is already running on the developer preview of Android O for Pixel devices.

Google also said it is working with silicon and device partners to take code changes, such as features for operator networks in specific countries, and move them into the common Android Open Source Project codebase.

It gave the example of Sony and Qualcomm, which have “contributed dozens of features and hundreds of bugfixes”, so they no longer need to rework these patches with each new release of Android.