Android N Might Usher In A New Future For Android Updates
One of the major complaints among Android users is the lack of timely OTA upgrades by device manufacturers unless you own a Nexus device. This could lead your device vulnerable to one of the nasty Android vulnerabilities that make front-page news for several months before your manufacturer finally gets around to releasing an update for your specific device.
Google has heard these complaints and has been working hard over the past several iterations of Android to make things more modular and in some cases even integrating some security features via the Google Play Services framework. Based on information obtained from looking inside of the Android N Developer Preview that was released last week, it appears that Google may be working on a new way of pushing upgrades to the device without the need for the device manufacturer to get too involved. At the moment it is unsure if these upgrades will expand from simple incremental patches to full Android OS upgrades in the future.
These changes have been in the works for quite a while and the initial signs appeared on the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 with Android 5.0. The factory images for the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 included a new vendor system partition to allow device manufacturers to offload device specific files such as hardware drivers from the main operating system and essentially make it easier for device manufacturers to simplify operating system updates. Select devices also contain a OEM partition which was designed to include OS customizations by manufacturers such as skins. Google further simplified updates in Android 5.1 with the new Carrier Provisioning API which eliminates the need for some carriers to maintain their own operating system images containing carrier applications and bloat – they can now push these to any compatible device with a carrier SIM card inserted.
We have already begun to see the fruits of these efforts with several manufacturers, following the lead of Nexus phones, releasing monthly security updates beginning with Android 6.0. In Android N, Google seems to be taking this a step further. They are continuing to modularize the operating system to further distance the core OS from everything else. This would theoretically allow Google to control and centralize core Android updates without manufacturers needing to get involved. Imagine a future where every device could get the same benefits previously only afforded to Nexus owners such as monthly security updates and timely Android updates. This method could also result in smaller over the air update files as manufacturer bloat could cause OTA files to exceed 2GB in size.
All of this is currently speculation at this time however we will likely be hearing a lot more about this at the 2016 Google I/O event in May.