We have gotten used to a scenario where Android system updates are downloaded, the phone reboots, and the update is applied. During this brief stretch of time, the device is rendered useless till the update completes. But the next version of Android, 7.0 Nougat
, seems poised to change this game. Nougat is coming with new ‘Seamless Updates’ that will make upgrading the system software a much more convenient process.
It appears Google borrowed the ‘Seamless Updates’ concept from their Chrome OS. In Chromebooks, the update usually downloads in the background. Once it’s ready, the user is prompted to reboot the device in order to complete the installation process. It’s just one quick reboot and the entire upgrading procedure is over – no waiting for installation or optimizations or any other kind of delays that eat up your time.
Starting with Android 7.0 Nougat, this is the direction updates will be taking. But it’s worth noting that Seamless Updates will not be possible on devices that have been updated
to Nougat. It’s only those that ship with this version of Android that will enjoy the privilege. The reason provided for this seems to make sense – for the ‘Seamless Updates’ method to work, two system partitions are needed. Pretty much all Android handsets in the market have a single partition.
Think of it like this – there is one active system partition and another dormant one. These two are mirrors of each other. When the OTA update is available, it’s downloaded in the active partition, but updates in the dormant partition. A single reboot later and the dormant partition is flipped to be the active one. So the formerly-active partition now assumes the status of ‘dormant partition’. You are not lost in all this partition-maze, right?
The key benefit is that this ‘Seamless Updates’ approach makes system updates immeasurably faster. More so, there’s also some sort of backup system. The Android system can detect errors during boot and flip back to the unaffected system partition. Once the device is one again, it can then re-ping the download servers and get the download again, re-applying the updates and rebooting again to wrap up the entire process. This is near-revolutionary, especially compared to how catastrophically the current system handles updates – with a lot of Android development tools, user interactions, etc.
At this stage, we only know how this new updates system will work in theory. We haven’t seen it in practice since Nougat hasn’t had an update yet. More so, no device has been shipped with version 7.0. So there are still looming questions. It’s easy to imagine, for once, that there will be a very negative effect on system performance when the update is being applied. It’s also easy to worry about how much space the dual partitions will take. But you have to keep in mind that these are system partitions – it doesn’t mean that you require double the space needed for each app you have installed on your device. Perhaps, Google’s upcoming SquashFS
file system will help offset some of the potential issues with space.