At this year’s Android Dev Summit, Google hinted at something undeniably awesome for all Android enthusiasts. That is, we will be able to try out the next version of Android before release.
During the talk given by Hung-Ying Tyan at Google at the Summit titled “Understanding the Impact of Generic System Images (GSI),” he mentioned about the plan and more. And I will continue to clarify as you read on.
“GSI is the central piece in Treble compliance. We feel that it has a lot more potential than that. We set out a goal to make GSI be more accessible and useful, not just for device makers but also the general public including app developers like you and even consumers. An important first step toward that goal is to make GSI available in AOSP. So for this, we have published Pie-GSI in AOSP. So now you can download and build Pie-GSI today. We are also exploring ways to make future GSI available earlier than the release of next Android version. So you will be able to try out next Android version earlier over GSI. And at the same time we can also get early feedback from you, so the benefit is mutual. So please stay tuned for our further announcement on this.” – Hung-Ying Tyan, Google
In 2017, Google revealed Project Treble, an endeavor to separate the Android framework code from implementation of the hardware vendor. It was meant to make provision of Android software updates easier for device manufacturers, thus preventing fragmentation (that is one part of the mobile users are running older versions of software or hardware while the other part running newer versions) and also making Android devices more secure in the route.
It was required for every device with Android 8.0 Oreo and above to support Project Treble. Device makers were able to release Android Pie beta versions alongside Google Pixel devices as a result, so another benefit could also be earlier access to future Android versions.
What is a GSI?
A GSI is an untouched build of Android from Android Open Source Project (AOSP.) Or simply a system image with no customizations by OEMs (‘Original Device Manufacturers’ like Samsung, Huawei, LG, Sony, Motorola etc.), career customizations or even feature additions from the Pixel Team. To maintain Treble compliance, devices must be able to boot a GSI on top of the existing vendor implementation. And they should also make sure that basic hardware functionality is kept together while running a GSI.
What Does This Mean for Us?
This will be very important for not only modifiers but also for developers because they can test apps on newer versions of Android with their existing hardware without even needing emulators. And for us, Android enthusiasts too, it would be a huge thing to try out the new platform features earlier than usual.
But, something that even Google has acknowledged is that flashing a GSI can be somewhat tricky for users. XDA-Developers provides a bit of a lengthy process to do it, but they admit that is not achievable for everyone for its involvement of an unlocked bootloader, something that is not possible on most devices. According to Hung Ying Tyan, at the moment Google is working on a way for users to be able to try out GSI without flashing GSI onto a device.
Let’s look forward to when they will give us more information on how that would work.