Android 11 will let users stop device-makers from killing background apps, says Google

Android 11 Beta 2, out this week, is a fairly modest update, focusing primarily on stability and bug fixes. But behind the scenes there are strong indications that a broader shift is afoot, with Google trying to address overall ecosystem inconsistencies that have formed since its initial release.

The biggest clue comes from an official Reddit post by Android’s engineering team, who said the upcoming version of the mobile platform will finally address a major OEM excess: background app restrictions.

Android allows vendors to set their own background policy, choosing when to kill processes running in the background. As you’d expect, the actual execution varies wildly between OEMs. It is a fragmented space: running on multitude of different devices, under various manufacturer skins, or even as forks, such as Amazon’s Fire OS.

One site, Don’t Kill My App, tracks policies between manufacturers. Chinese manufacturers — like OnePlus and Huawei — are the most aggressive. Google’s own-brand Pixel and Nexus devices, as well as those from Nokia and Sony, are the most laissez-faire.

But it matters, because background kills can have drastic implications, including notifications being delayed and apps misbehaving.

Writing in an AMA, the Android engineering folk described background kills as a “complicated topic,” itself compounded by the extensive independence enjoyed by manufacturers.

“We are updating the Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) for Android 11 to make sure device manufacturers are alerting users of app restrictions in a timely manner,” they said. “Not only does this help educate users about what is happening to their apps, but it also allows users to override the restriction if they choose to.”

Vendors will also be prohibited from exempting apps from their “background kill” policy, which Google claims harms the ecosystem and “decreases innovation.”

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Commit to Android codebase suggests Google may strong-arm phone makers into using ‘seamless’ partitioned updates

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Developers will also be able to check why their app was terminated, via a new API. This will allow them to determine whether a process was killed because of a device’s background restrictions, or for another reason, like a crash.

Google ssaid these measures “don’t solve everything,” but reckoned it remains an ongoing concern, and it will continue to try and balance the needs of users and vendors.

This isn’t the only move from Google to address platform inconsistency. Previous commits to the Android codebase indicate the Chocolate Factory may force vendors to support “seamless” A/B Updates: a feature that sees updates staged across partitions, allowing for easy error recovery, and thus, easier deployment.

Although this feature has appeared on all versions of Android since 7.0 Nougat, it has been up to OEMS whether they use it. Android 11 appears set to change that. ®

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