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How Google will put an end to Android fragmentation

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How Google will put an end to Android fragmentation

Despite all the efforts of Google to eliminate the fragmentation of Android among the smartphones made by the partner producers (reden everything modular with Project Treble and Project Mainline above all), the final result is that it takes 6 to 12 months before a smartphone Pixel receives the update to the new version of Android. But Google has a more drastic strategy to curb this and stop it once and for all.

Android is moving to a new “upstream” model, moving away from the traditional forked layout that can cause software delays.

Currently, the AOSP open-source code of Android is modified over and over again (by SoC manufacturers, by smartphone manufacturers to adapt it to their ROMs and by telephone operators), until the final result is very different from the initial one. In short, before a device is updated, the Linux kernel goes through multiple forks: from Linux to “Android common”, then to the specific SoC version, before finally reaching its device-specific iteration.

It’s a lot of work for every company involved and is one of the main contributing factors to the Android fragmentation problem. However, with the Generic Kernel Image (GKI) finally available with the latest version of Android, this process should get easier in the coming years.

Eventually, Google wants manufacturers to switch to a kernel module interface, or KMI system, where all they have to do is insert their respective changes to the main kernel. Basically, instead of implementing three or four different forks, you’ll only need to run it once.

As explained by Google’s software engineer Todd Kjos: “The big push is getting all the hardware-specific code from the generic kernel and vendor modules. One of the most important parts of this effort is that we need to have a stable interface between those vendor modules and the generic kernel, so they can ship asynchronously.”

Google’s entire process of moving Android development with the “upstream” model will most likely only begin in 2023, with 2020-2022 dedicated to making it work for pre-existing solutions. The Pixel 6 is expected to be the first Android device to ship with GKI and Linux 5.10 kernel, marking an important step in this process.

Clearly, all this goes far beyond what the end-user will be able to “touch” but it is good that behind the scenes we are working to ensure that updates for smartphones arrive faster.

1 year ago (September 28, 2021) 5684 Views
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