Google is set to bring major changes to Android phones with the release of the next version. The search giant plans to mandate any new device shipping with Android 11 and Google Play Services to include a virtual A/B partition. In other words, every smartphone shipping with Android 11 should have two copies of some of the important system partitions. Google is making it necessary so that one partition can be used actively. The second one will be made available for seamless updates without leaving the Android environment. Also Read - Android 11 Developer Preview 2 released: List of compatible Pixel phones and how to install
As reported by XDA Developers, this will enable seamless updates for all Android 11 devices. The idea being to eliminate the need to wait around in a recovery screen for the OS to apply a major update. The news comes straight from a new commit to the testing procedure inside Google’s Vendor Test Suite or VTS. VTS is a set of automated tests that validates whether a particular Android ROM and device are compatible with Project Treble. With Android 11 or API level 30, Google is making it compulsory for both virtual partitions and an A/B partition setup to pass this test. Also Read - Android 11 Developer Preview 2 arrives: Check out new features
This is what Android 11 neeeds
Only the devices that pass the VTS test will get Google Play Services certification. For years, seamless updates have been a pain point for Android users. Google took the first major step to reduce friction with the introduction of Project Treble alongside Android Nougat release. It separates the original vendor implementation from Android OS framework. With Treble, Google made it easier for OEMs to replace Android framework without making major changes to their own customizations. Also Read - Android 11: Here's when the next developer previews, betas and final release will roll out
With Android 11, Google is further strengthening the update process and putting more limits on its OEM partners. There are changes coming to a couple of important flags within VTS – ro.virtual_ab.enabled = true and ro.virtual_ab.retrofit = false. It means the “Virtual” A/B partitions introduced in Android 10 alongside dynamically resizable partitions must be present. Smartphone makers should also include a full A/B partition scheme. This is a strong step that eliminates the approach of installing a legacy single-partition system.
An A/B partition scheme will have certain system partitions such as /system and /product copied into two instances. One will be actively booted from and used while the second one will act as an exact replica. Google plans to use this secondary replica to push software updates without shutting down the entire system. Once the update is done, a restart will be required to swap one partition for the other. This should be instantaneous compared to the current update process which involves waiting for at least a few minutes.
Another advantage is that if a partition fails to update properly then it can switch to the second partition. As you would have realized, such an approach will mean Android taking more system memory than it does now. With OEMs making heavy customization, the data consumed by the system will go up significantly. Google has made it clear that a manufacturer needs to meet these standards to get a GMS license. This should result in seamless update experience and improve Android experience overall.