Updates have long been one of Google’s biggest problems for Android, and they’ve been mocked relentlessly for it too. Project Treble was the company’s last big attempt to fix Android updates, and now Android Q is introducing “Project Mainline.”

Right off the bat, let’s talk about why Project Mainline is promising. Where Treble’s goal was to make system updates easier for OEMs to implement, Project Mainline gives Google control over updating specific portions of phones it does not make. That’s huge, and a very smart move for the company.

As explained in a blog post, Google says Project Mainline allows Google to update core parts of Android in terms of security just like they would an app. The Verge explains that Google has 14 “modules” which it can control. OEMs do have the ability to opt-out of this, but if they don’t, Google can ensure they’re on the latest updates for “security, privacy, and consistency.” It’s a huge win for OEMs too, as it takes that work out of their hands and saves money on a full system update.

While this probably won’t make much of a dent in phones running older versions of Android, it should help tremendously in terms of keeping users secure. Further, Google says that it should help developers with app compatibility as Project Mainline is expected to “help drive consistency of platform implementation in key areas across devices.”

We plan to update Project Mainline modules in much the same way as app updates are delivered today — downloading the latest versions from Google Play in the background and loading them the next time the phone starts up. The source code for the modules will continue to live in the Android Open Source Project, and updates will be fully open-sourced as they are released. Also, because they’re open source, they’ll include improvements and bug fixes contributed by our many partners and developer community worldwide.

For users, the benefits are huge, since their devices will always be running the latest versions of the modules, including the latest updates for security, privacy, and consistency. For device makers, carriers, and enterprises, the benefits are also huge, since they can optimize and secure key parts of the OS without the cost of a full system update.

Importantly, this isn’t something any smartphones on the market today can use. Google says that this will work exclusively with devices that launch running Android Q out of the box.

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Ben Schoon

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