Google seems to have made it mandatory for smartphone vendors to support “seamless updates” on all devices running Android 11 out-of-the-box. The new change would help users as the updates including security patches and new software versions will get installed in the background, seamlessly upon enabling the fresh support.
Although the Android maker hasn’t yet announced any details, it is found to have tweaked its Vendor Test Suite (VTS) to check for devices running Android 11 and later include support for virtual A/B partition structures. This is required to enable seamless updates on devices.
Only the devices that pass the VTS test will get Google Play Services certification. For years, seamless updates have been a pain point for Android users. Google took the first major step to reduce friction with the introduction of Project Treble alongside Android Nougat release. It separates the original vendor implementation from the Android OS framework. With Treble, Google made it easier for OEMs to replace the Android framework without making major changes to their own customizations.
With Android 11, Google is further strengthening the update process and putting more limits on its OEM partners. There are changes coming to a couple of important flags within VTS – ro.virtual_ab.enabled = true and ro.virtual_ab.retrofit = false. It means the “Virtual” A/B partitions introduced in Android 10 alongside dynamically resizable partitions must be present. Smartphone makers should also include a full A/B partition scheme. This is a strong step that eliminates the approach of installing a legacy single-partition system.
An A/B partition scheme will have certain system partitions such as /system and /product copied into two instances. One will be actively booted from and used while the second one will act as an exact replica. Google plans to use this secondary replica to push software updates without shutting down the entire system. Once the update is done, a restart will be required to swap one partition for the other. This should be instantaneous compared to the current update process which involves waiting for at least a few minutes.