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.

Comments closed
    • strangerguy
    • 3 years ago

    Cyber-Yoda: “If you (still) let carriers meddle with your OS, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

      • Airmantharp
      • 3 years ago

      Treble is more of an admission that Google cannot limit carriers from meddling with Android (or device OEMs, for that matter). What makes it a positive development is that it is an attempt to address the downfalls of such downstream meddling, in order to allow carriers to do what they’re going to do regardless of security/stability/compatibility concerns, while making a renewed effort to get updates to end-users.

      Should Google succeed, they’ll probably get further support from device OEMs and carriers, as this framework could alleviate some/much of their burden.

    • tsk
    • 3 years ago

    This is will not help the update mess of Android unfortunately as the carriers and OEMs are still required to do work.
    Meanwhile I’m enjoying Lineage OS Android 7.1.2 on my Nexus 5, and it’s running smoother than a Galaxy S8, although that doesn’t take much. I actually went to the store and had my phone next to a brand spanking new S8 and its pathetic how piss poorly Samsung does software optimization.

      • BurntMyBacon
      • 3 years ago

      This is step one of three. It remains to be seen what, if anything, they can do to alleviate the other two bottlenecks.

      • brucethemoose
      • 3 years ago

      Samsung has a bloatware fetish. It’s kind of their thing, and not just in their phones.

    • CuttinHobo
    • 3 years ago

    There’s a lot of uncertainty in the wording here with all the mays, mights, and maybes. I really hope Google can get this fragmentation under control.

    • Luminair
    • 3 years ago

    “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.”

    This implies updating android always requires new chip drivers, which would not seem to be the case

    “Another potential upshot with Treble is that older devices can be supported for longer. ”

    This implies device drivers are why manufacturers stop updating their phones, rather than software development being more expensive than just selling new phones

    “As an example, Qualcomm typically stops providing new chipset device drivers after two years, leaving OEMs out in the cold. ”

    So you wrote a bunch of things here and I’m not sure you have good sources for them

      • Veerappan
      • 3 years ago

      Generally, updating to new major android releases requires a newer Linux kernel. The Linux kernel ABI has never been a stable target, and so new kernel versions usually require updated drivers from chip vendors.

      It follows that once a chipset manufacturer stops releasing updated drivers, compatibility with new android releases becomes difficult/impossible (unless there happens to be an open-source driver that provides compatibility for the hardware… which is not common for the graphics chips in smartphones).

      It sounds like google is planning on essentially isolating the kernel and vendor drivers with a standardized and stable interface between the two.

        • BurntMyBacon
        • 3 years ago

        That can certainly contribute to why major updates stop. What about minor updates that don’t require a new and different Linux kernel target?

    • UberGerbil
    • 3 years ago

    That illustration is missing the Android that comes out of the “Carriers” box with a broken leg, a visor obscured by peeling emoji stickers, and small rabid monkey in its pocket that randomly prevents you from doing stuff while spying on you.

    • brucethemoose
    • 3 years ago

    HTC has a great infographic of the update process:

    [url<]http://www.htc.com/us/go/htc-software-updates-process/[/url<]

    • slowriot
    • 3 years ago

    And this is exactly what I was getting with my questions on the Fuchsia OS article. Google could have built this ages ago and should have.

    • DancinJack
    • 3 years ago

    I’m not entirely certain it will only be new devices, and I really hope it’s not.
    [quote=”Google”<]Project Treble will be coming to all new devices launched with Android O and beyond. In fact, the new Project Treble architecture is already running on the Developer Preview of O for Pixel phones.[/quote<] I don't really know what they mean by that, especially considering they say the arch is already running via the O preview on existing Pixel devices.

      • Peldor
      • 3 years ago

      What they mean is that Google is committed to Treble with Android O, and has no meaningful leverage over the abysmal state of affairs for Android devices using Nougat or earlier.

        • BurntMyBacon
        • 3 years ago

        It follows that, if your handset/tablet is updated to Android O, then it will have the necessary framework in place to use Project Treble. Hence, the architecture is working on Pixel devices using the O preview.

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