When Google unleashed the first technical preview of Android N on the world this week, nobody really saw it coming. In fact, talking to sources at Google, I’m not even sure most of the company knew. Sure the Android team did and like a few other critical teams but broadly? I don’t think so. Many Googlers I know were just as surprised as you or me.
For me though, the release of the preview could not have been timed more perfectly and the way they opened it up to anyone running a Nexus device will assure that this launch will likely be the most successful ever for an Android release. It also moves up their release timeline to mid-year, something that will help year end holiday season sales of devices as N will be well established by then. It is a stroke of genius by Google and should not be lost on anyone.
From a tactical perspective, releasing Android N in March is two months ahead of Google I/O. In the past, I/O was the launch point for any new version of Android and this year most did not expect any change in that cadence. But getting it out in March, according to Google’s own timeline, will mean by the time I/O comes around in May, developers will have had at least 1 update if not 2 by the time they walk into the Shoreline Amphitheater. By that point, N will be properly baking (think of it as clumpy cake batter right now) and developers will have had time to tear into it properly so they can fully understand it by the time they get to I/O. That will make this year’s event infinitely more important but also infinitely more meaningful. Developers will be going to I/O not expecting to hear all about Android N but expecting to get their nitty-gritty questions answered about the OS. It means that some
serious pounding on the code will have already happened and it will make breakout sessions and keynotes all the more important.
In fact, if anything, the pressure is on Google not to screw up I/O this year by turning into anything other than a pure developer conference.
The second big thing is the fact that Google made it dead simple for anyone with a supported Nexus device to join the beta. Now we can debate if this is a good thing or a bad thing and for their part, Google sent out plenty of warnings on not loading this beta unless you are developer. But the bottom line is that Android N is almost undoubtedly
running on more devices than any 1st beta ever in the history of Android. That provides them a wealth of information about usage patterns, application interactions and performance, battery performance, communications stack performance… the list goes on. This will only make N better and do so in a shorter period of time.
Finally, there is the shift of release dates from the end of the year to mid-year. Don’t underestimate this element. Traditionally, Android major releases have happened in the October to November time frame each year. That means that manufactures of devices, including Google themselves (through their hardware partners who build the Nexus devices) have virtually no shot at having a device out running that new version of Android for the holiday season. Whether you like the fact or not, the holiday season is driven by retail and not having a new device with the new software on it is kinda a big deal.
Google is suggesting that we will see Android N publicly in Q3, so sometime between July and September. On the aggressive end, that gives manufactures 5 months to get updates built for their current devices and on the conservative end, 3 months. Think about it. You are looking at that now 8 month old Galaxy S7 at Christmas time and you see a little sticker on it that says “Upgradable to Android N today”. That’s a big deal as people don’t like spending $600+ dollars on something “old”.
Equally as important however is that the 3-5 month window would give manufactures who are planning to launch new devices plenty of time to get an Android N build done for the device launch. Why? Because they will have had it in their hands since last week.
This is why I think the release of Android N this week is nothing short of a stroke of genius by Google. It will get them feedback on it faster, make Google I/O more meaningful and potentially get N on devices for this Christmas.
This move was planned and it is a good plan.