What just happened? The latest Google Play system update for the Android Runtime (ART) brings a number of critical improvements, including much faster app launches. Described as the "engine behind the Android operating system (OS)," ART is responsible for the translation of an app's bytecode into native instructions that are executed by the device's runtime environment.

In a post on the Android Developers Blog this week, Google said that regular ART updates deliver a ton of features to Android devices, including security fixes, improved memory usage, enhanced execution speeds, and more. Recent updates have also unified the core OpenJDK APIs across hundreds of millions of devices, including all Android 12+ smartphones and tablets. Google also says that these updates will be available "soon" for Android Go.

ART became a modular component with Android 12, ending years of the monolithic update schedule that required OS components to have clear API boundaries. While the older system made it difficult to update ART independently of the rest of the OS, the recent change to a modular structure has enabled Google to update it through the Play Store instead of having to push out full system updates every time.

The ability to update ART independently has brought several benefits, including a more seamless rollout of security patches and performance optimizations. It has also helped developers get OpenJDK improvements and compiler optimizations that benefit both Java and Kotlin. Google also claimed that with the latest ART 13 update, runtime and compiler optimizations resulted in app startup times improving "up to 30% on some devices."

Another notable benefit of ART updates is that it allows developers to target the latest programming features. As explained by Google, ART 13 delivered OpenJDK 11 core language features, which the company claims was the fastest-ever adoption of a new OpenJDK release on Android devices. While ART 13 is already a step in the right direction, Google says it is working on ART 14, which will be rolled out to all compatible devices "in the coming months." ART 14 will include OpenJDK 17 support along with new compiler and runtime optimizations that Google claims will "improve performance while reducing code size."

The best thing about the next-gen ART version is that it won't be limited to Android 14 devices, meaning you could also get it on your phone even if it's running Android 12 or 13. That is welcome news in a severely fragmented Android eco-system, where only 12 percent of Android devices were reportedly running Android 13 as of April 2023, nearly a year after its public release.