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Google details Android 11 changes that try to keep OEMs from killing background apps

One of the places where the fragmentation of Android can be felt the most is with how various OEMs tweak core parts of the OS. One of those places that was brought up in an AMA session with Android engineers was how companies tweak Android’s handling of background apps, and Google has a few tweaks in Android 11 that attempt to at least heal the wound regarding this issue.

Recently, an in-depth article from our friends over at Android Police looked at how various Android OEMs — especially Samsung and OnePlus — treat background apps and processes on their smartphones. Changes like these can be frustrating for everyone. Users may notice delayed notifications and certain features that don’t work. Meanwhile, developers have to battle these changes just to keep their apps working, and when those apps don’t work properly, it’s the devs taking the blame for that.

In today’s AMA session, multiple users asked what Google would do about it and if Android 11 would see any changes to this background app situation. Long story short: There are a few changes, but they almost certainly won’t fix the bigger issues.

Google’s Android team calls background apps a “complicated topic,” and that it’s something they’ve been working on for quite some time. The response given here, too, even gives criticism to OEMs by saying that “it doesn’t help that each manufacturer does it differently.”

It’s explained that Google has been working with OEMs to find why manufacturers have made the changes they’ve made, and also to stop their partners from using “extreme” measures to stop background apps. Apparently, the company is also working with its partners to fix violations to Google’s terms on some devices from “top manufacturers” with fixes rolling out in the latest updates.

To further curb these issues going forward, Android 11’s Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) will require OEMs to “[alert] users of app restrictions in a timely manner.” Google will also prevent manufacturers from making an allow list for popular apps to get through these restrictions, as that would harm smaller developers.

In a comment, Mishaal Rahman from XDA shared the specific changes Google is talking about. They read:

  • If device implementations implement proprietary mechanism to restrict apps and that mechanism is more restrictive than “Rare” standby bucket on AOSP, they:
    • [C-1-5] MUST inform users if app restrictions are applied to an app automatically. (NEW) Such information MUST not be provided earlier than 24 hours before such restrictions are applied.
    • (Note)Force Stop is considered to be more restrictive than “Rare” and MUST comply all requirements under 3.5.1, including new 3.5.1/C-1-5

Google also mentioned a new API that tells developer why their app crashed. That might help them fix the issue, but it won’t affect the end user unless the developer can actually get things patched up, which, really, this API doesn’t help them do.

Clearly, there’s still a lot of work for Google and the Android team to do in this area. I definitely agree with AP’s Ryne Hager that Google could and should do more regarding this issue, but clearly that’s not going to happen in the immediate future.

More on Android 11:

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