Google Project Treble aims to separate Android from drivers

The web is filled with reams of pages detailing how Android's slow updates and fragmented ecosystem are trouble for users, developers, and vendors. We've written on the topic ourselves in the past. Google has a new project in the works to improve the situation, though. Meet Project Treble.

Typical lifecycle of an Android release

Currently, Android software updates need to go through three major roadblocks: chipset makers must create new drivers and software packages, device manufacturers must use those drivers in their software packages, and carriers must then add their customizations and release the update (save for carrier-unlocked devices). Project Treble wants to help sort out at least one of those problems.

At its core, Project Treble seeks to place a standardized interface between device-specific low-level software (like the kernel and drivers) and the Android OS framework. Google says that Treble will try and create a division between the Android framework and device vendors' software, in much the same way that Android itself is split between system software and third-party apps.

What this might mean to end users is that updating the Android operating system won't depend on chipset vendors to issue new device-specific software. Instead, Google can ship a new Android version, and device manufacturers can start working on an update right away and send it—salted to taste—to the carriers.

Another potential upshot with Treble is that older devices can be supported for longer. Google says it's working with chipset makers to ensure that the new standardized vendor implementation will continue to be compatible with future Android versions. As an example, Qualcomm typically stops providing new chipset device drivers after two years, leaving OEMs out in the cold. Under the new model, a phone could continue to get system updates long after Qualcomm discontinues its chipset.

Although Project Treble looks like it'll have a positive impact on the Android update situation, it's not all roses. Device manufacturers still need to care about issuing the updates, and it's still up to the carriers to push them out. Furthermore, Project Treble is only going to be available for devices that ship with the upcoming Android O. Seeing as many devices on sale now are still stuck with Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), the road ahead looks to be steep.

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