Android updates to improve with "Google Unified Push". Developers worried over Android 9 becoming a more restrictive OS


Android has always been synonymous with two things: a very open, highly customizable operating system, which often gets molded in whatever way device manufacturers or developers and users deem fit; and slow updates. However, both of these things might shift a bit in the opposite direction — we might be getting a bit more of a locked-down OS and faster updates once Android 9 P rolls out. According to a couple of reports, at least.

Google Unified Push to improve updates

The first one comes from Android-centric tech blog GoAndroid. It talks of a so-called "Google Unified Push", which would be an initiative that aims to speed up Android updates globally.

Since Android 8 Oreo hit the market, we were introduced to Project Treble — a new way of interaction between the core Android software and the manufacturer-built user interface on top. Now, the two are split like different entities, which should supposedly speed up updates — it will be much easier for phone makers to push the new update when they don't need to rewrite most of their UI to accommodate it.

As you may know, implementing Treble when updating a phone to Android 8 Oreo was not a mandatory move. So, a lot of manufacturers chose to forgo Treble when pushing Oreo to their devices, citing technical constraints as the main reason to do so. Well, with Android 9 P, they won't have much of a choice — Google will be making Treble an essential and required part of the Android build. So, if a phone maker hopes to update their Android 8-carrying flagships to the next build, they will have to do so with Treble in mind.

This mandatory Treble-fication of all Android phones, which will probably happen over the next couple of years, will be followed by a so-called “Google Unified Push”, which should basically mean the newest version of Android will be pushed to absolutely all eligible phones as soon as possible.

Now that all sounds great for sure, but it also sounds quite a bit perplexing. With the smorgasbord of different phones, hardware, user interfaces, apps, so on and so forth, it's a bit hard to believe that Google can just force a “Unified Push” and have it all be smooth sailing, right?

Some fear the rise of iAndroidOS

Some are already speculating that the software giant intends to close off parts of Android — maybe not make it iOS-levels of being locked down, but definitely limit some of the developers' and even users' freedoms.

Members of the XDA Developers community have dug up a few commits (lines of code), which suggest that Android will restrict apps from using hidden or uncertified APIs (Application Programming Interface). Since some developers do use those to bring some extra bling, flair, and functionality to their apps, this means they will be getting a virtual slap on the wrist and, unless they update their apps to function without said APIs, they will crash.

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This is not a huge, huge deal since hidden APIs were not meant to be used by 3rd party developers in the first place. It's just that some people out there are cunning enough to have found them. Now, Google is just enforcing the idea of “No touchy!”.

Google is no stranger to closed off software

There's the big picture — Google's Pixel phones are a bit more locked down, with a locked bootloader and a squeeze feature that can't be remapped away from the Google Assistant without going into 3rd party .apk installs; the Android Wear platform is pretty much completely locked down to the point that every Android Wear watch looks the same (software-wise); Project Treble is being forced on manufacturers who want to have Android 9 P on their phones; Google was cracking down on apps that use Accessibility Services just a couple of months ago, looking to ban any app that wasn't actually meant for users with disabilities.

It does look like Google is no stranger to the idea of restricting some things and enforcing some rules in order to finally be able to guarantee a more stable ecosystem and eliminate the “fragmentation” punchline. While locking away some of the hidden APIs is not that much of a big deal, developers are a bit concerned over what this all means for the future and how much of a nightmare their work will become over the next year or two.

However, we are far from the idea that Android will suddenly become as conservative and as restricting as iOS. Google's current decisions only affect a small number of unofficial developers — the ones that like to tinker with unlisted API for the challenge of it, mostly. So, no reason to panic yet.

sources: GoAndroid; XDA Developers (1, 2)

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