Google has toyed with this forced upgrade path for a few years now, breaking out core features of their operating system into mandatory Google Services updates available via the Play Store. It has helped to bring new features to otherwise stagnant hardware but there’s only so much Google can push through as a service update.
Project Treble was baked into last year’s Android release, named Oreo, which is only running on five percent of all Android devices today, just to highlight the issue Treble is meant to solve. But thanks to Treble, those few phones running Oreo are ready to upgrade to P immediately, which is why we’re first seeing its effects with the P beta, and we’ll hopefully continue to see day one updates for Android Q, R and S to come.
More interesting for myself and other phone geeks, this potentially opens up the best Android hardware to a “pure, vanilla” Android experience. That is, an Android without any of the software customisation that manufacturers insist on adding, to give their handsets a unique selling point.
Android phone makers like HTC and Samsung have flirted with vanilla Android, or “Google Play Editions” of their hardware, but this idea never stuck, as the need to differentiate for marketing purposes outweighed the benefits vanilla Android might bring. Nokia and Motorola bank on the geek-cred appeal of vanilla Android to sell their handsets, but their devices are mid range phones. I want pure Android on the best hardware from LG, Sony and Samsung.
With Treble, we shouldn’t need an official vanilla Android edition of our favourite handsets, we can just wait for the incredible Android open source community to make a version available for the hardware we want, knowing it should be easier to install and will continue to be upgraded long after the handset maker has moved on.