Google will require the use of continuous updates in Android 13

Google could drive a major change in android 13 to the require OEMs to adopt the system of continuous updatesalso known as system A/B updates.

This is a mechanism introduced many versions ago that aims to make OTA updates are done in the background, without interrupting the user and with reboots that take no longer than usual. In the event of an error that prevents the update from being carried out correctly or from starting after installing it, an automatic process will be carried out. roll-back so that the user can continue booting the same version of the system that has been working correctly for him.

System A/B updates were introduced in Android 7 and, to put it very simply, they are based on a scheme where there are inactive and active partitions. When the user receives an Android OTA update on a device that has this mechanism enabled, it is applied in the background on the set of inactive partitions until it completes. Then, in the reboot process, the set of inactive partitions becomes active and vice versa, thus allowing the last installed system image to boot while keeping the previous one as a backup.

However, the update system has the drawback of relying on the redundancy built into the A/B partition scheme design, an aspect that ended up severely limiting its adoption by OEMs due to the extra space it required. To at least reduce this inconvenience, Google introduced in Android 11 a virtual A/B partitioning scheme that is based on the dynamic partitioning feature already present in version 10 of the operating system.

Unlike initial scheme, which is based on normal partitions with a fixed size, the virtual uses partitions that can be created, resized and destroyed dynamically during the update process. This is possible thanks to the addition of a new “super partition” whose size is set by the factory, but which allows dynamic partitions to be created within it until it occupies the same amount of space. Otherwise, the update process should be done in the same way, offering the user a more unattended and secure mechanism to update the operating system.

And here we come to the current point, with Google requiring the adoption of the virtual A/B partition scheme in Android 13 if OEMs want to receive the Google Mobile Services (GSM) license. Since the appearance of Pixel smartphones in 2016, the search giant has been polishing continuous updates to at least reduce its disadvantages. OEMs will be able to continue to use the traditional scheme that requires access to the recovery environment to patch the operating system, but if they choose to go that route, they will not receive the GSM license.

Despite the clear benefits of Android’s continuous update system, consumer computing has always moved under very conservative parameters, so not even an OEM as large as Samsung has adopted it yet. However, if the model is mature enough, mobile manufacturers have no real excuse not to implement it.

In case it wasn’t clear, the GSM license requirement would apply for devices that would ship with Android 13 as the default system.

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