In our last blog post we outlined how the patch process works and explained why up to one third of IOS devices and almost all Android devices are still running on old operating system versions. New updates need to be released all the time to add new features, fix bugs and patch up mobile security vulnerabilities. So during last week’s Google I/O it was good to hear about a significant change aimed at simplifying the process of upgrading Android software. Known as Project Treble, it will introduce in the next version of Android (Android O), an abstraction layer between the OS and the hardware it runs on. It mirrors the clear distinction between the OS software and applications that exists today. A welcome announcement for any enterprise concerned with mobile device management (MDM).
In the future there will be a test suit that a semiconductor manufacturer can run to confirm that its hardware is compatible with current and future versions of Android. This also means that when a new version of Android is released, the semiconductor company will not have to write new software to support it. This will reduce the effort required by a device manufacturer to build and test a version of the new OS that runs on its devices.
While Treble is a welcome step forward it’s not a panacea. This is because most leading handset manufacturers prefer to customize Android to offer users an experience that is different from competitors. This is important to them as it’s a way for them to build loyalty and repeat business with both consumers and enterprise buyers. So they will still have to take the ‘stock’ Android build provided by Google and modify it. There can also be carrier and network specific customizations that need to be catered for.
The potential impact of Project Treble should be interesting. We might even see the emergence of a device category that is directly upgradable. Mainstream device manufacturers will resist this but upstarts offering instant upgrades could start to emerge. It’s also likely that Google will encourage this as it will provide them with even greater power over the Android world. However, given the sluggish pace of the patch process thus far, it is unlikely that Project Treble will make a dramatic impact on Android any time soon. (Google reported earlier this year that over half of Android devices did not receive a security patch in 2016).
However Project Treble is a significant step forward and how the Android device market evolves over the next 24 months will be worth keeping an eye on.