Google took us for a surprise by launching the preview build of their next Android iteration. The smartphone users went haywire about the surprise announcement though users of Nexus 5 users expressed their sadness. Yes, the Android N will be supported on devices Nexus 6 and above. It does pack some awesome feature which custom / third party ROM makers have offered for years. But what is more interesting is, Google is trying to fix the widely spoken issue, Fragmentation with the latest update. How? Read on…
If you ask any iOS user about what makes them happy to stick around for with the same device for years, one of their replies would be “My device always runs on the latest version of iOS”. On the other side, Android users are plagued with losing out frequent security updates as well. So there comes the biggest issue with Android-powered devices. They are fragmented! Not all devices run on the latest version of Android.
Why is Android facing fragmentation issue?
There are more than 1.5 billion Android-powered devices in the world. United by the name of Android, but divided among the versions. The root cause is, Android is an open source operating system that gives away control over to manufacturers. End of the day, it’s Google that has to take the heat because their name is on the product.
You may be thinking why is it so difficult to give a software update as Google does most of the join in developing it and giving it away to vendors. Well, the problem starts with the end part of the last sentence. That is “Vendor”. Just take an example of Samsung who’s a top vendor of Android smartphones. They manufacture more than 20 handsets per year? All of them spread across the price segment? All of them carry different hardware parts? Some can run mind-blowing animations and some have to settle with peanuts.
So the vendor (Samsung in this case) will have to spend time, money, resources on modifying the operating system. Change the source files and libraries that are compatible with the hardware. Add their own apps that become obsolete as days passes due to insufficient hardware capabilities. Sometimes, there will be clashes between Android’s own feature that comes as an update, but the vendor has built it before. Now, what happens? The vendor has to rework on that feature. Modify underlying files.
Here is an example of the process followed by HTC while releasing the OS update:
Well, there is a lot in it. Can you sense why it becomes difficult for companies to provide frequent security patches or updates? Not an easy task. Isn’t it?
Is Google taking steps to fix this fragmentation issue with the Android N update?
Now that you are aware of issues that are making Android fragmented across versions, let’s see how does Google plan to fix it.
Noob way of explaining:
With Android N, Google is trying to split the whole operating system into two parts: the core OS (the framework that makes everything work) and the interface built on top of it (the apps, launcher, notifications, and everything else the user interacts with).
Out of two, Google takes care of the core OS. Adds all the necessary files into it. Build libraries that can be exposed as services a.k.a API’s for vendors to utilize that and build whatever they want. The second part, the interface can be handled both by Google and the vendor. Google will pack stock UI while giving it out to vendors. But this section can be edited by vendor according to their needs. Samsung will be happy to just work on their Touchwiz UI without touching the core of Android.
Yes, Google will provide the both of these to the vendor. They can edit the core OS if needed. But Google is trying to eliminate that headache from the vendors. Thus making (or forcing) them to keep their device updated always.
Digging deeper, a developer way of taking it:
Now that you have understood how the whole operation will be divided into two sections, let’s see how can this really matter to the vendor.
Take any example of having an iOS-like interface on Android phones, Lenovo‘s way of integrating Dolby Atmos sound technology into their software, Motorola’s always-on display or any cool new feature in smartphones you have come across. All they need to be built into the software. Meaning, the vendor has to tweak the core OS library and kernel files to accommodate that new feature.
For always-on display, Motorola will have to tweak display Window and Activity manager in Application framework layer that in turn speaks to Surface Manger libraries and going deep to Display driver in the kernel. I can go on to explain other, but for now, take this as an example.
With Android N, what Google is trying to provide is, it will give all the API’s that can eliminate the vendor from touching libraries and kernel files. These APIs will be used from application framework onwards to get that always-on display done with fewer steps. Thus making it less time consuming for vendors and quicker got-to-market path.
So the core files belong to Google and the interfacing layer goes to vendors for simplifying the software update or security patch going forward.
Ok, Now I’m getting something. But how is it going to help me?
So now you know what Google is trying to do. That’s awesome. Really! Trust me!
How that is going to help me or you is, Google will have an easy access to push security updates as a part of core OS or a framework. The vendor can push the update for their interface. Let Google worry about fixing those Android bugs and push the update and being a vendor, I will just worry about my own proprietary parts of the OS.
Still got doubts? This will end up in getting that framework updated on more phones at a faster pace. Yes, you are out of those security breaches and safe to use the device for a longer run.
Google is yet to make official announcements about the same. May this be the biggest news we are about to hear from the company at upcoming I/O 2016 developer conference. For now, take this as a pinch of salt. It can be wrong altogether. But knowing Google for years, they simply won’t change the file structure.
There is a lot to be looking out for at I/O 2016. May this be one of the announcements that could really fix some of biggest problems.
Inspired By: Android Central