Google is today expected to launch the first preview of Android Q, the next version of its all-conquering mobile operating system. Users are waiting to see what new features are coming to the much-anticipated 10th anniversary release of the platform. However, Android 10 will also once again highlight fragmentation across the OS, but this time Google looks to be actively addressing the problem.
If you are unfamiliar with Android fragmentation, it is something that has plagued the platform since day one, an eternal issue Google has been unable to solve. Due to the open source nature of Android, OEMs are free to update Android whenever they like, and often don’t receive new versions until months after they are released.
For example, Android Q will be available in beta today while a majority of Android smartphones are not even running Android Pie (version 9). In fact, fragmentation has become so potent that users are all over the place in terms of which builds they run on their smartphones.
A quick glance at the official Google chart below shows the most used Android version is Marshmallow, which was released in 2015. Other highly distributed versions included lollipop (2014), Nougat (2016), and Oreo (2017).
— Rick Osterloh (@rosterloh) October 12, 2018
The current version and nearly 50% are running a version that is over 3 years old.
Indeed, by the time Android Q rolls out to the general public this year, most Android users will be running devices that cannot even upgrade to the OS. Most OEMs run a “two years and your out” policy for updates, so those millions of users running Lollipop, Marshmallow, and Nougat cannot upgrade their handsets.
So, while you are probably still waiting for Android Pie, Google is preparing to preview the next major release. After spending years tackling fragmentation to no avail, the company says Android Q will land on the most smartphones ever at launch.
More Smartphones on Android Q
Firstly, it’s worth discussing why it is likely Android Q will reach beta preview on March 11. Google’s Issue Tracker search has a date filtered on March 11, which does suggest the new major update preview will land today.
Furthermore, xda-developers report a statement from Android developer Illiyan Malchev made during the Android Developers Backstage podcast. He points to Android Q beta being available on more smartphones than Google has ever opened preview to before.
“Q: I noticed that when we announced the Android Pie preview at last year’s I/O, there were several devices that were announced at that time, which I thought was new to have that many different devices coming out. I assumed that was in part due to Treble, making it easier for those devices to be….
Illiyan: Yeah, in fact it was fully due to Treble. We had, I believe, eight OEMs including Pixels, so seven OEMs other than Pixel. And I think it was for the first time we had all of these companies line up to do developer previews and betas for Android Pie well ahead of the AOSP publication date. For reference, we tend to release the new version of Android sometime in August. So at Google I/O , when we did the first beta, we had all these companies lined up, and that was really that amazing. The number is bigger for the upcoming Android release, which I am very happy about. I cannot share the exact numbers yet. But the trend is positive and strong, and I am very happy about this.”
The “Treble” Illiyan Malchev refers to is Google’s Project Treble, which is a framework that streamlines Android implementation for OEMs. Smartphone manufacturers can use the framework to update devices more quickly and efficiently. Operational since 2017, Project Treble is aiming to reduce fragmentation across the ecosystem.
As noted, the level of fragmentation is high, so Project Treble has a lot of work to do. Android Q could take a major step in the right direction by simply being available on more smartphones when it launches. Needless to say, the more devices that can receive the update the less fragmentation we are likely to see.
Malchev says the company is working towards introducing Android Q on more smartphones than ever:
“The number is bigger for the upcoming Android release, which I am very happy about. I cannot share the exact numbers yet. But the trend is positive and strong, and I am very happy about this,” Malchev said in the podcast.