Google’s pitch when it launched Android was openness and customization. Unlike Apple, it released its mobile OS under open source licenses, allowing device makers to modify it. This disconnected approach helped Android become the most popular computing platform on Earth, but it’s been hard to reach Apple levels of polish and consistency. Google has attempted to centralize chunks of Android to address this over the years, and a major component called ART is set to get this treatment in Android 12. The result could be vastly improved app compatibility, which is sure to make everyone happy.
Until a few years ago, every update to Android phones required rebuilding the OS from scratch with Google’s latest codebase. That started to change with the addition of Project Treble in Android 8.0 Oreo. This architectural change makes vendor code forward-compatible so new OS updates can plug in without any low-level changes from Qualcomm and other chipmakers. Project Mainline came along in Android 10 to further modularize the OS and deliver core system updates via the Play Store.
According to a new note in the Android open source code, Google plans to move the Android Runtime (ART) into Mainline with Android 12. That means it will be able to update this vital system component across potentially all new Android devices starting next year. ART is vital because, without it, your phone wouldn’t know how to run any of your apps.
ART came to Android in 4.4 KitKat and became mandatory a year later. ART is what’s known as an ahead of time (AOT) compiler. It takes the bytecode from apps and compiles it into native instructions, which are ready for your phone whenever you open the app. ART replaced the Dalvik VM, which was a “just in time” compiler that converted code on the fly and was rather slow as a result.
If Google begins requiring OEMs to include a Google-signed ART component on phones, Google could push updates to it on all certified Android devices. Android app compatibility has come a long way, but there are still times that a phone might render an app incorrectly or break background services because of OEM system modifications. A universal Google-updated ART module could make apps more consistent across devices, which is good for users and great for developers who constantly have to track down device-specific bugs.
None of this is official yet — Google hasn’t announced ART’s inclusion in Android 12, but the project is ongoing in the open-source project. If it comes to fruition, Android apps could get a big usability boost.
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