Google Ships First Android 7.1 Developer Preview

Posted on October 20, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 10 Comments

Google Ships First Android 7.1 Developer Preview

While Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL are the first smartphones to ship with Android 7.1 Nougat, you don’t have to wait until tomorrow—or spend upwards of $650—to experience the new system. Assuming that is, that you own a support device. It’s available now in beta form on the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and Pixel C devices, and will be extended to other devices in November.

And that is a bit confusing, isn’t it?

According to Google, Android 7.1 has “has already launched on Pixel,” which suggests that it is “complete” and “non-beta.” So why on earth is the version heading out to other devices considered a Developer Preview or, as Google says, in “beta quality”?

The answer is that the Developer Preview gives Google a chance to “tease out any device-specific issues.” So after shipping first on Pixel, it will head out to Nexus devices, and then other devices over time. And that makes sense, I guess. But this brings two interesting issues:

Is Android really so fragile that it needs to be custom-designed for each devices on which it runs?

And isn’t it fair to say that Pixel and Pixel XL will see at least a handful of Android 7.1 updates by the end of the month that do nothing more than bring it up-to-date with the version of the OS that is shipping to other devices?

Put another way, doesn’t all this really suggest that Android 7.1 is not in fact “complete,” and that Pixel buyers are getting a beta OS on their expensive new purchases?

Sorry for all the questions. And I know that Microsoft and Apple do essentially the same thing. But maybe that’s the central concern here, that we have quietly moved into an era of always-beta software, and that that isn’t necessary an ideal situation for anybody.

OK, off the soapbox. What’s going on with the Developer Preview?

Aimed at developers—hence the name—but no more or less dangerous than the Windows Mobile Insider or iOS Beta builds that users of other smartphones enjoy, the The Android 7.1 Developer Preview provides an early peek at new Android features.

These include:

App shortcuts. A new shortcuts feature for developers lets apps create up to five entry points so that launchers—like the new Pixel home screen, or other apps—can go directly to those actions. This works, in other words, like deep links on Windows phone, but is also more powerful: Developers can surface functionality that can be called by others apps too.

Image support in soft keyboards. In previous Android versions, soft keyboards could only send emojis to apps. But now they can also send images, stickers, and other rich content too.

Enhanced live wallpaper. I’ve only read about this one so far, but apparently the live wallpaper functionality in Android, which has been sitting untouched for years, is now dramatically improved and may actually be useful/desirable to use.

Round icons. The system icons in Android 7.1 are round, which is an interesting new look, but of course it can look weird with all of the stock square icons used by third-party apps. So developers can now add round icons to their apps for the new system.

And more, of course. I’m installing the Developer Preview on my Nexus 6P now—and am allegedly getting my Pixel XL tomorrow—so I’ll have more to say about Android 7.1 Nougat soon.


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