Google and MediaTek have teamed up to launch a new Android conformance and compatibility program which will help smartphone manufacturers build devices using MediaTek SoCs that will come pre-installed with Google’s Mobile Services (GMS), e.g. Google Play, Gmail and YouTube.

Known as GMS Express, the program lets MediaTek ship a version of Android to its partners that is more than just the bare minimum that you get from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), but rather a more consumer-oriented version that includes the Google Mobile Services and is ready for Google’s Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) certification by third party labs.

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Under the new program, device makers can get handsets to market quicker, cheaper and yet with a consistent consumer experience. Previously, MediaTek would have provided its partners with low level support in the form of a Board Support Package (BSP), basically the hardware-specific drivers, and a version of Android based on AOSP. The Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) would then need to independently built its consumer offering and have it verified by a Google authorized lab. This last part can be time consuming and expensive as any certification problems would require several iterations between the OEM and the testing lab to ensure that everything is compliant.

MediaTek can now provide device makers with pre-tested, pre-certified, and fully compliant builds of Android. According to MediaTek this means that its partners can reduce the typical compatibility certification process from three months to four weeks.

Pre-tested, pre-certified, and fully compliant

But the benefit isn’t just for the OEM. GMS Express also benefits consumers, as it ensures that only pre-tested and certified Android builds appear in the marketplace, giving consumers confidence they have a secure and compliant version of Android. Secure because MediaTek will be frequently sending new versions of Android to its partners with the latest security patches, meaning that companies using the GMS Express program should be able to keep their devices up to date with minimum effort.

MediaTek told me that it has already been working to get this program up and running with several key partners and that it will use Android Oreo as a base for GMS Express today, with plans to move to Android P whenever that is released by Google (probably sometime in 2018).

During a phone call with MediaTek I asked about future-proofing and I was told that a current 2017 SoC, like the entry level 4G LTE MT6739, would support Android Oreo and then Android P. Furthermore, MediaTek offers GMS Express to its partners building Android One devices. Android One devices are guaranteed to receive at least two years of upgrades to the latest version of Android.

Many people probably see MediaTek as a hardware/chip company, but hardware without software is just silicon. To that end, MediaTek likely employs more software engineers than it does hardware engineers. For the GMS Express program, it has a specialist team of software engineers that form part of its Android Software Solutions team.

Since Google Mobile Services aren’t used on devices in China, the GMS Express program is aimed at OEMs, inside and outside of China, that are making international devices including devices for Europe and North America.

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What do you think? Will offering a pre-tested, pre-certified, and fully compliant build of Android with Google Mobile Services help MediaTek’s partners make secure and compliant Android devices? Please let me know in the comments below.

Gary Sims

Gary has been a tech writer for over a decade. Prior to that, he had over 10 years of experience as a software engineer.