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What is Project Treble? Is this the next big thing in Android?

Android versus iOS has been the biggest point of debate in the smartphone industry, and rightly so. Though there is no clear winner here, there is also no denying the fact that when it comes to customization, Android beats iOS any day. On the other hand, iOS is leaps ahead when it comes to raw processing power. The speed and flawless performance of iOS backed by its capable A-series processors is a charm. However, with the recent developments in Android platform and particularly with the launch of flagship devices by the likes of Samsung and OnePlus, Android is slowly steering its way to matching the speeds and performance of an iPhone. At the same time, what should be kept in mind is that no notable changes have come or are going to come in the foreseeable future when it comes to customisation in iOS, mostly because Apple maintains iPhone as a “closed platform”.
Why Android needs Project Treble?
The major issue for which Android has been facing a lot of flak in recent times, is the software update timeline. Brands like OnePlus and Samsung are now providing software updates to new OS versions much faster than other OEM’s used to, but unfortunately even with top notch hardware, Android users get a maximum of 2 update cycles, or in certain cases it is even restricted to 1. On the other hand, iPhones have been known to get as many as 4 major updates. So the underlying question is, who is at fault here? Well, frankly speaking, no one. Sure if the OEM’s want they can provide 4 or even more major updates, but the system is paralysed by a deep rooted flaw in the Android system, and recently Google has come up with a possible solution aka PROJECT TREBLE.
Android smartphones unlike iOS are manufactured by a range of vendors, each one of them adding certain elements to the stock ROM to make full use of the device’s hardware capabilities. Now in order to understand Project Treble, we need to know how android works. Whenever the user gives an input to the android system, the OS relays the information to ‘Hardware abstraction layer’ aka HAL, which is quite similar to a driver in Computers. HAL in turn invokes the kernel, which then communicates with the required hardware for the particular task. This Hardware abstraction layer is vendor specific (programmed by the vendor on top of the Linux kernel), owing to the fact that each device has a different set of hardware, whereas the linux kernel underneath is a constant released by Google. So what happens is, whenever Google releases a new version of Android, or a modified Linux kernel, the OEM’s have to redesign HAL on top of it from scratch. This demands serious resources by the OEM’s and hence they prefer stopping after 1 or 2 upgrades.
How is Project Treble helpful?
Until now, modularisation was only at the hardware level. But Project Treble brings software modularisation to the table. What it essentially does is, it separates the vendor implemented software (HAL), from the underlying framework of Android. This feature is inbuilt in the latest update of Android, Android 8 aka Android Oreo. Previously, whenever an update was released by Google, OEM’s had to update the vendor implementation (HAL) too, since it was built upon the previous Android framework. Not only this, updating HAL means waiting for instructions from manufacturers of every hardware component in the smartphone, leading to extremely slow upgrades or no upgrades in many cases. Now with project Treble on board, OEM’s don’t need to upgrade HAL, since HAL is now not built upon the Android framework but has a separate partition of its own. Theoretically, this means that any smartphone could now be upgraded to any future version of android by the user, just like any version of Windows can be installed on any computer.
Does this mean the problem’s solved?
Well, unfortunately no. As mentioned, Project Treble works by separating the vendor implementation from the Android framework. To do this, the physical storage on every Android device needs to be re-partitioned. Although this can easily be achieved by an OTA update, certain OEM’s including the likes of OnePlus are hesitant about it, and this is only going to spread. The reason being, re-partitioning the device without proper guidance may or may not lead to a brick, a frequently observed phenomenon when it comes to rooting an Android smartphone. In fact, OnePlus has cited this issue in detail on its forum, and has denied including Project Treble in its Oreo update. OEM’s certainly don’t want to risk bricking half their devices just to end up dedicating resources in handling its further implications. However, this decision has certainly raised question marks on the claims of OEM’s which promote consumer satisfaction above all.
Is this a step backwards?
Maybe not, as it is going to encourage further research into Project Treble, which Google says is just in its introductory phase. Still a lot needs to go into it, to change it into a universally accepted system. However, there is no denying the fact that this certainly is the biggest development in smartphone industry after the development of Android itself, and is a giant leap towards the future of Android.

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