Google has always struggled with the so-called fragmentation of the Android platform, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming the most popular computing platform on the planet. Last year, Google unveiled a new Android framework called Project Treble that was supposed to make updates faster. Now that a new version of Android is rolling out, we can begin to assess to the success of Treble. So far, there’s not much good news.
In 2017, Google added Project Treble as part of Android Oreo. It only required new Oreo phones to ship with Treble, but a few device makers added it in Oreo updates anyway. The goal with Treble is to make Android more modular. Rather than replace the Android OS and low-level vendor implementation (things like drivers), Treble lets you just replace the Android part of the firmware with the new version. Theoretically, that means phones can get faster updates for longer.
Google launched Android 9 Pie several months ago, so this is our first chance to find out how much Treble is helping. The early signs were good — the Essential Phone got its Pie update the same day as Pixel phones, and other Pie beta program devices like the OnePlus 6 and Nokia 7 Plus followed several weeks later. Then, nothing.
It has been almost three months since Android Pie launched, and no major phones have gotten updates. Oh, a few phones have launched with Pie, but that’s to be expected. The latest Android version numbers don’t include Pie because it’s below the 0.1 percent cutoff, suggesting there’s no substantial difference between the Pie rollout and Oreo last year.
It’s a perplexing situation because we know it’s definitely possible to develop Android updates faster with Treble — just look at OnePlus. It deployed Pie to the OnePlus 6 in about six weeks, and it took almost four months for Oreo to hit the OnePlus 5 last year. It seems like larger OEMs might have realized that Treble would make updates more manageable, so they’re devoting less engineering resources to them. After all, people still buy phones knowing the OS updates will take ages. Making them faster isn’t going to sell more phones.
Maybe Treble will still pick up steam later, and it will make it feasible to provide updates longer because you don’t need to replace drivers. While system updates are nice, Google’s efforts to push security updates is probably more vital. It’s looking to make these updates mandatory for most phones, which could have a bigger impact on users than getting the latest OS version.
Now read: Essential Has Laid Off 30 Percent of Its Staff, Pixel 3 Bug Adds Notch to the Screen, Just as We Always Wanted, and Google Frees Up Android Device Makers to Comply with EU Rulings