Can Project Treble Let Android TVs Get Updates Faster?

Ahead of Google I/O, the Android Developers blog posted an article detailing a new method that they’re employing that hopefully will make your device get updated sooner. Called Project Treble, the goal is to isolate silicon-specific code from the Android framework itself.

TREBLE

adjective – consisting of three parts; threefold.

The project name seems to stem from the three main components of how Android’s tech stack works. You have the Android apps, relatively high-level software programs. These interface with the Android framework. This is used for a variety of OS-level features, from adding Live Channels to things as simple as displaying a button.

In order to get an Android device to run, it needs hardware. Your phone has a central processing unit to do simple algebraic computations. The silicon manufacturers will also have integrated hardware for communication radios and reading from various sensors. (This is a simplification of what silicon manufacturers incorporate in their hardware.)

When you’re building embedded systems like this, the hardware may be vastly different even though you want the same output. This can require a lot of manual work porting code between different updates. Embedded developers may end up writing hardware abstraction layers, which allow them to easily port higher-level functions to various hardware without affecting the main program.

Example

board_a/hal_uart.c

void hal_UART_WriteByte(char c) {
    PIN13 |= 1;
    UART1.Tx = c;
}

board_b/hal_uart.c

void hal_UART_WriteByte(char c) {
    PORTA |= 8;
    UART[0] = c;
}

uart.c

#include "hal_uart.c"
void UART_WriteByte(char c) {
    hal_UART_WriteByte(c);
}

Android has long used the Compatibility Test Suite to ensure everyone gets a reliable Android experience. Now, they are adding in the Vendor Test Suite and a standardized Vendor interface. Similar to a HAL, this should allow Google to update the Android OS without affecting any of the hardware code. This means silicon manufacturers will not need to spend time updating their code.

With this standard, Android O and P can pass the Vendor Test Suite and move directly to NVIDIA, or Sony, or any other OEM to make their changes. To reduce this time as well, Google has been working with these partners to integrate more code into the core of the OS.

Will this mean that Android O will come to Android TVs in record time? Not necessarily. OEMs are not always incentivized to update older devices when they try to market their latest products. Carriers for mobile devices will also need to conduct tests to ensure phones respect local cellular regulations. However, now there are fewer excuses when a company marks a device as end-of-life.

We’re sure to hear more about Project Treble next week, and perhaps learn a bit more about what real-world effects this new program will have.

 

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker) Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop. Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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