Android Nougat Maintenance Releases A Shot Over Manufacture’s Bows

For those of us that love Android, yesterday a pretty rock solid day.  Android Nougat was released and devices that were a part of the beta program have already started seeing the final NRD90M build hit their devices (you can read my review to get all the details on Nougat).  One tidbit of news in all of the hubbub of the release was the announcement of regular maintenance releases for Nougat.  It was easy to miss as, as far as I am aware, it was only posted in the Android Developer Blog announcing the release.  That blog, unless you are developer, isn’t on everyone’s reading list understandably.  In that post from Dave Burke, he pointed out a small but important piece of information about Nougat.

We’re moving Nougat into a new regular maintenance schedule over the coming quarters. In fact, we’ve already started work on the first Nougat maintenance release, that will bring continued refinements and polish, and we’re planning to bring that to you this fall as a developer preview. Stay tuned!

This new maintenance schedule is independent of the monthly security updates.  This new maintenance schedule is all about bringing features, refinements and fixes to the platform.  It is also, in my opinion, a shot across the bow of manufactures who drag their feet in getting the .0 releases out.  Android is going to march forward and Google, more or less, is telling OEMs to get with the program.

So how this new maintenance schedule is going to work is still not 100% clear.  Based on Mr. Burke’s post, it would seem that in the next quarter or two we can expect a .1 release of Nougat (I’m assuming but play along with me for argument’s sake).  This could be in line with the release of the “Marlin” and “Sailfish” devices that are coming from HTC later this Fall.  Then, about the first of

Android N on The Nexus 6
Android Nougat

the year we see a .2 and so forth.  That is a huge, fundamental shift for Android where “dot” releases never really had a rime or reason.  So, by the time we get to Android O, we could well be seeing Android Nougat 7.4.

For the Android team and Google, this change likely means a bit of restructuring within the development teams.  Some of the team will likely being working on the .1, while other still may be working on .2 while yet others are working on Android O.  I don’t know this for fact but knowing how large development teams work (which I am intimately familiar with), it stands to reason.  For consumers, it also means that improvements, new features and fixes will be coming at a regular cadence.  That means that don’t necessarily have to question if they will ever see an update from Google.  They know, perhaps as rapidly as a quarterly schedule, an update will be available.

The question, however, is if they will ever see it from their phone’s manufacture.  OEMs are notoriously bad about getting updates out in a timely manner if at all.  If you have been in the Android ecosystem for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard this over and over.  I’m not going to pick on one particular manufacture – some are better than others but most are horrifically slow.  To make matters worse, manufactures are not clear if that $600 phone you bought just six months ago will see Nougat.  Seriously.  It is a huge mystery for just about everyone who doesn’t have a Nexus device (which Google has quite clearly laid out how upgrades will be handled).  That is why I think this new maintenance release schedule is going to put huge pressure on the manufactures.

Consumers are savvy and they are going to start paying attention more than ever to updates on Nougat.  Google is likely going to be very public about these releases.  That means as a manufacture, you are going to start getting pinged by your customers on when the .1 or .2 update is going to be out for my “device xyz”.  The last thing the manufacture is going to want to do is say they aren’t coming out with it or it will be months away.  Why?  Because consumers, particularly younger consumers, will simply move to another device.  Millennials have very little brand loyalty (they don’t have to because there are dozens of brands for just about anything out there) and they will move to another device or platform to get the apps and updates they want.  In a passive-aggressive way, Google is going to leverage consumers to get the point across to slow-footed manufactures.

And I am totally okay with it.

I will call bollocks on any manufacture who says the cannot update their devices within a reasonable window of time.  Six months or a year, by-the-way, is not a reasonable window of time.  A quarter is a reasonable window of time.  I will also call bollocks on a manufacture who says a device in their mid-range ($350-500) or flagship range (greater than $500) won’t be updated to the next major release of Android if it is less than 24 months old.  Google manages to do this and a few manufactures have made the same commitment.  It can be done so the question really is if manufactures can be bothered to do it.

In my view, this move to a regular maintenance cadence will benefit Google and consumers the most and puts pressure on their manufactures to get up to speed on updates.  If not, they risk their consumers going elsewhere.  That will be more effective than any dictatorial message from Google will ever be to them.