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Repair Mode could hide your personal data while your Pixel phone is being fixed
- Today, you need to factory reset your Pixel phone before you send it to Google (or Google will wipe it for you).
- Google seems to be working on a Repair Mode that’ll create a secure environment that the service center can use without affecting your data.
- When you get your phone back, you should be able to restore it to its normal state.
Picture this: You drop your Pixel phone on the floor, unfortunately resulting in a cracked screen. Since you pay for Preferred Care, you decide to send it to Google for repair rather than fixing it yourself. However, before you send your phone in for repair, you begrudgingly factory reset it. It’s a pain in the rear to have to set your phone up again once it’s back in your hands, but it’s better than giving people you don’t know access to your personal information. Fortunately, Google may have a solution to this problem in the form of Repair Mode, a new feature that could be coming to Pixels with the upcoming December 2023 Pixel Feature Drop.
In the first beta for Android 14 QPR1 Google released today, we spotted new strings in the Settings app that hint at this feature:
<string name="repair_mode_active_summary">In repair mode</string> <string name="repair_mode_summary">Secure environment for device repair</string> <string name="repair_mode_title">Repair mode</string>
Google Pixel Repair Mode: How might it work?
The way Repair Mode might works under the hood is quite interesting. On the surface, you might think it’ll just create a new user/profile similar to Maintenance Mode on Samsung Galaxy devices, but what I think Google might be doing is simulating a factory reset. Google could be leveraging a mechanism it introduced in Android 10 called Dynamic System Updates (DSU) to make this happen.
DSU was designed to make it possible to boot a Generic System Image (GSI) without overwriting the original installation, thus preserving the user’s data. DSU takes a GSI and creates a new, empty data image. During the next boot, Android swaps out the original system and data partitions with the GSI and new data image so that the device will boot into the GSI with a clean data partition.
What if, instead of swapping out the system and data partitions, Android only swaps out the data partition? Basically, use the original system partition but a new, empty data partition. That’s basically what a factory reset does, but since we’re only swapping out the data images, the original data image remains intact. It wasn’t possible to use DSU this way until Android 14, though, as Google only recently introduced several enhancements that make this doable.
For example, Android 14 added the ability to hide the default notification that’s shown when the device is running a dynamic system. It’s thanks to this that Repair Mode would be able to show its own notification. Another improvement that Google has made to DSU is allowing the “device owner” app to lock the device into the mode so that only the device owner (which in this case would be Repair Mode) can exit it. And thanks to a recent AOSP patch, the RMA tools that Google uses at its service centers will be able to know when a device is in Repair Mode, allowing the technician to forgo factory resetting it.
Repair Mode would be a great addition to Pixel, and I hope it arrives in the stable release of Android 14 QPR1 in December.