Seamless Updates have been incorporated into the Android scene for a while now, since Android 7 to be exact. However, it has never been mandatory and various manufacturers like Samsung never really pushed it to their devices. This might be changing with the release of Android 13.
Seamless Updates in essence allow smartphones and tablets to install updates in the background and only apply them on a reboot. Doing this has obvious advantages, such as not waiting for a long time as your phone installs the latest system update, although it also has some major drawbacks, as you will see below.
Google is at the forefront of pushing seamless updates to the masses, and it does not come as a surprise that their entire Pixel lineup has always supported this mode of receiving updates.
Android expert Mishaal Rahman explains on Esper that new devices launching with Android 13 will be forced to support virtual A/B partitioning. This A/B partitioning makes it possible to have the Android system installed on your phone two times.
The two versions will be composed of the current Android OS you are running, and the one that you want to upgrade to. Once the new version is done downloading and getting installed in the background, you will only need to reboot your phone at that point, and it will pick up the newer updated version.
This all seems like good news so far, but what is the catch? The answer is storage space. In order to use seamless updates, you will need to install the Android Operating System twice. This means you will need significantly more space allocated to the system compared to when updating right away and not using your phone when the update is underway.
To get around this storage issue, Google has leveraged several tricks including dynamic sizes for partitions, compression and cleaning up files that are no longer in use. This has shown some promise, prompting Google to make seamless updates mandatory for all devices launching with Android 13.
With compressed virtual A/B, only an extra 0.7 GB of space was needed to complete an update when compared to a system that does not support A/B at all. This is highly impressive as most phones nowadays have more than 64 GB of internal storage, making 0.7 GB negligible.
The second drawback is that using seamless updates takes a longer time to complete an update compared to when you do not use any partitions. Pixel devices leveraging the A/B update system take more than one hour to complete a system update, while a Samsung device updating the traditional way normally takes around 20 minutes for the same update.
Despite the longer update time on Pixel devices, they are still usable during the whole process, while the Samsung device will be unusable for the 20 minutes period the update will be going on. Which update path you prefer comes down to preference and how you interact with your phone.
Some people will prefer getting the update as soon as possible, favouring Samsung’s approach, while others will prefer retaining the usability of their devices as the seamless update works its magic behind the scenes despite taking a long time.