Last week saw the launch of the 8th major version of Google’s Android operating system (codenamed “Oreo”). Android recently overtook Windows as the most popular operating system, so news of a new version should be a major event. However phone operators are often very reluctant to push out the latest version of the operating system, preferring instead that you buy a brand new phone. We covered this in detail in our previous blog “The Elephant in Android’s sweet shop“.
Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly), things haven’t improved since we wrote that article a couple of years ago. At the point of writing, more people are using Android 4.4 (released in 2013) than Android 7 (which has been available for a year). Less than half of all Android devices are running a version released in the last two years. While Google is consistently good at its own range of Pixel devices up to date, you’re still lucky to receive even a year of updates from any other phone provider that uses Android (which includes Samsung).
One of the big “advantages” for companies using Android on their phones is that they’re able to customise it. The problem with this is that when Google release a new version of Android, as well as having to test the changes to the operating system work on their phones, they also have to ensure all their customisations still work as well.
For what its worth, Google is attempting to address this problem directly with this new version. They have introduced a change to the way that companies apply their own customisations to separate them from more from Android itself. Dubbed “Project Treble”, the goal is to continue to allow these customisations while making it easier for the companies to continue to supply updates. How keen companies will be to implement this in favour of suggesting you get a new phone to get the latest updates remains to be seen…
For the lucky few that actually get this update, there’s the usual list of tweaks such as improved battery life due to power management changes and various optimisations to improve speed. There’s also a new “Picture in Picture” feature that allows you to run one app on top of another (eg have Skype in a small window while you browse the web). Now all most people need to do is wait until they get a new phone to see any of these changes!