Complains about Android system updates are almost as old as Android itself. Google’s early decisions made it very difficult to get devices updated with the latest features and patches, which has haunted the platform for years as the dreaded F-word. You know… “fragmentation.” Google has implemented several features in recent years to improve updates, and according to the latest Developers’ blog post, these efforts have made Android 10 the fastest-growing version of Android by a wide margin.
For the uninitiated, Google adds proprietary features and services on top of Android and licenses it to device makers. These companies can make changes to Android, provided they don’t run afoul of the rules Google puts in place to prevent the worst excesses and abuses. Google creates new versions of Android every year and issues security patches monthly. It’s up to OEMs to integrate security patches and new versions of the OS with their customizations and roll updates out to devices, but that’s expensive. Google has been trying to make this process easier for years with features like Project Treble and Project Mainline.
Still, it’s been difficult to track the effect of Google’s update-focused feature additions because of the way Android works. Google announces something like Project Treble for the new version of Android, but we have to wait a whole year before we can see what effect it has on updates to the next version. Android 10 has the advantage of Treble, Mainline, GSI, and other features designed to make updates quicker and easier for OEMs. And it’s finally coming together — updates are getting better.
According to Google’s latest tally, it only took five months for Android 10 to reach 100 million devices. That’s 28 percent faster than Android 9 Pie. As of now, Android 10 is on just over 400 million devices. At this point in Pie’s life cycle, it ran on less than 300 million devices. Android 8.0 and 8.1 were substantially behind that with around 100 million at the same point.
In the upcoming Android 11, Google is again working on features to make updates faster. Google Play contains more system components, which can be updated in the background automatically. The new Generic Kernel Images will work across all Android devices, too, enabling faster security patch deployments. There’s even a change to the “seamless” A/B update mechanism that launched with Nougat. In Android 11, virtual A/B updates will have the same benefits without using as much storage space.
While this is all good news for Google, it’s not feeling confident enough to bring back the monthly platform report that showed what versions of Android were in the wild. If it ever revives that feature, we’ll know Google has fixed its fragmentation woes.