Updates on Android devices have been a major talking point when comparing against the likes of iOS devices. And that’s really because every Android device is unique in its own way, with its own UI and services on top of the generic Android OS. Google did launch Project Treble that made it easier for OEMs to work on updates, but Google is not stopping there.
New AOSP code reveals Google is making it mandatory for all devices to have “A/B partitions” that will make updates install while you use your smartphone normally.
A new commit on AOSP Gerrit that has the title “Require Virtual A/B on R launches” has been added to the Vendor Test Suite which is an automated test that devices must go through for Project Treble. The test checks whether the device has A/B partition enabled. If “ro.virtual_ab.enabled” is set to true and “ro.virtual_ab.retrofit” is set to false, the device will pass the test.
We might be seeing the changes to Android 11, details of which are expected to come out in May. If Google does push through with making this mandatory, it will make the update process so much more seamless. Here’s how A/B partitions work (h/t: XDA-Developers) -
On a very basic level, A/B partition puts essential files into slots in your device storage. So when the update is installed, files in Slot B are updated while files in Slot A of the phone aren't. Now Slot B is kept inactive till you restart your phone. The moment you do, the device switches over from Slot A to Slot B and you get the latest update on your device.
The biggest advantage is, of course, the seamlessness of the whole process. You don’t need to charge your phone to full capacity and keep it off for a good 15 minutes for the files to install. With A/B partition, it’ll all happen in the background while you play your game or watch your video. Saves everyone a lot of time.
Furthermore, if by chance the update is corrupted and fails to install, only the inactive Slot B will be affected but you can keep using your phone like normal and do it again with a fresh download of the update.
The downside to having the new partition is the extra storage space it will need. That can be a big hurdle in Google making this mandatory since most OEMs ship with their own customisations on the Android OS that adds to the space the OS takes on a device.
Now with A/B partitions going to be mandatory in Android 11, it won’t be wrong to assume Google will also enable seamless updates to become more common.