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Google reveals Project Mainline: Get Android component updates via Google Play

Google has announced a new initiative to update Android components, such as media codecs, via Google Play.

Published onMay 8, 2019

Google's Project Mainline will leverage Google Play to deliver core updates.
  • Google has announced Project Mainline, allowing core Android components to be updated via Google Play.
  • Core Android components previously had to be updated via a full OTA update from a manufacturer.
  • Google says another benefit is that major security fixes can be deployed via this method.

One of the biggest complaints about Android over the years has been the lack of system updates compared to Apple devices. Google has since delivered the Project Treble initiative to speed things up, but it’s also got another initiative up its sleeve in Project Mainline.

The new project will allow Google to update core Android components via Google Play in a similar manner to updating apps, the company noted in an emailed press release.

“With this approach we can deliver selected AOSP components faster, and for a longer period of time — without needing a full OTA update from your phone manufacturer,” the company explained, noting that these components are still open-sourced. Google adds that it’s collaborating with partners for code contribution and testing as well.

What does Project Mainline bring?

You won’t be getting full-fledged Android updates via Google Play, but the firm says this approach still has plenty of benefits. For starters, Google says this will enable faster security fixes.

“With Project Mainline, we can deliver faster security fixes for critical security bugs. For example, by modularizing media components, which accounted for nearly 40% of recently patched vulnerabilities, and by allowing us to update Conscrypt, the Java Security Provider, Project Mainline will make your device safer,” the company noted.

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Google says privacy is another benefit, as Project Mainline will also deliver improvements to the permissions system to protect user data. Finally, the firm says the project will also address issues related to device stability, compatibility and developer consistency.

“We are standardizing time-zone data across devices. Also, we are delivering a new OpenGL driver implementation, ANGLE, designed to help decrease device-specific issues encountered by game developers,” Google said.

The company has also revealed the initial list of components for Project Mainline, as seen below:

  • Security: Media Codecs, Media Framework Components, DNS Resolver, Conscrypt
  • Privacy: Documents UI, Permission Controller, ExtServices
  • Consistency: Timezone data, ANGLE (developers opt-in), Module Metadata, Networking components, Captive Portal Login, Network Permission Configuration

Google has also revealed how these updates are delivered to users, noting that the components will take the form of APK or APEX files. The latter format is loaded earlier in the booting process, according to the firm.

“As a result [of the new format – ed], important security and performance improvements that previously needed to be part of full OS updates can be downloaded and installed as easily as an app update.”

Sure, Project Mainline isn’t delivering full-on Android updates via Google Play, but it’s still a big move towards faster, more regular updates for key components. We’ve also contacted Google to find out how Project Mainline will affect monthly security patches, and will update the article accordingly.

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