Compared to other mobile platforms, hacking on Android devices is relatively easier but that doesn’t mean it’s painless except for the most seasoned of developers. Even the mere act of flashing, that is, installing a new Android image, on an unlocked Android phone can be nerve-racking already with the multitude of tools and steps required. To help speed up adoption of the latest Android builds and updates, Google is releasing a tool to make that process all too easy, requiring nothing more than a compatible web browser and your phone’s USB cable.
To be clear, this isn’t a tool to forcibly update your phone to the latest Android version. It simply takes the vanilla AOSP (Android Open Source Project) builds that Google itself generates regularly and installs it on the phone via the magic of Android’s Project Treble. It is meant for developers to not only test those builds but also their apps and patches for those AOSP versions.
Those builds have been around since last year but what’s new year is the Android Flash Tool for web browsers. It’s basically a web app, taking advantage of the new WebUSB API, to give the browser access to a connected Android phone. Not only will developers be able to skip compiling AOSP every time, they won’t need to download those images and setup tools likes fastboot and adb to flash these AOSP images.
It doesn’t happen completely by magic, of course, and developers will still need to meet a few basic requirements. For one, their web browser must be able to use the WebUSB API, which is true for Google Chrome and even Microsoft Edge version 79 or higher. The Android phone must also support Project Treble, which means any certified phone that shipped with Android 8.0 out of the box.
It’s a small tool but one that could help speed up building and testing AOSP images, especially for Google’s own Pixel phones. It also demonstrates one of the benefits of Project Treble and could hopefully pave the way for a new system of updating compatible phones to recent Android security levels.