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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Comments (10)

10 responses to “Google Ships First Android 7.1 Developer Preview”

  1. 225

    Great to hear you will be in a position to test 7.1 on both a Pixel and the year old 6P - I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how each device handles the new Android version, and if you feel the Pixel justifies it's price versus the 6P.

  2. 2611

    Paul thinks google is cutting corners.  Sorry bad round icon joke.

  3. 5615

    "we have quietly moved into an era of always-beta software"

    Yes, we have, and there's nothing quiet about it. In fact, one could probably say that the whole concept of SaaS is basically just one long beta test. I'm still on the fence as to whether that's actually a good thing or not.

    "the live wallpaper functionality in Android, which has been sitting untouched for years"

    Maybe because it's been notorious as a battery-killer.

    • 5812

      In reply to offTheRecord:

      That isn't true. It's up to the person if they want to be a beta tester or not.  If not Google will update the Nexus phones when they are ready. It's now nice to have the option to use software earily and help beta test. Google isn't shipping software like Windows 10 phone which most will admit the "shipping" software is a beta and maybe in the last 6 months is now to shipping quality. The Nexus phones have had reliable software easily for the last few years. No beta software going out as finished. 

  4. 5510

    LOL...Are Paul's 2 questions/issues really serious?

    Let's get one thing straight. Windows Mobile Insider and iOS beta were/are designed for only two kinds of phones: Windows Phones and iPhones. Android was/is a different animal because it has the capability to go on all the other phones. From the highest to the lowest end phones, it has more of a test to go thru than their OS rivals. I know Microsoft had hopes to make their OS like Android and be installed on other phones,but that plan failed miserably.

    Also, people who have been paying attention in Android space, KNOW that Android 7 is not only a major update to the OS, it was released just about 1 month ago. Usually, aren't updates that come after a major version upgrade, followed by a ".0x" rather than a ".x?" Also with the unique relationship between Android Nougat and the Pixel phones, I don't see why it's confusing as to why 7.1 can officially be released to that phone before the Nexus and before other (flagship) phones.

    I think Paul still sees Pixel phones as the "new" Nexus, which they are not. I think that if Paul spends a little more time in the Android world, I think he would better understand what is going on here. Heck, that's what I do.

  5. 127

    So far no issues on my 5X. Lets see how it holds up

  6. 250

    I updated my 6P to 7.1 last evening. I haven't really had a chance to test drive it this morning, but will do so soon. I'm also dealing with the fact that I just signed up for Project Fi last week and am still familiarizing myself with both function and consequences. I hadn't expected the additional battery drain to be quite so heavy and occasionally unpredictable -- seems like the phone tries to configure its cellular network once a  day and sometimes twice. I'm also working through the apps to find those whose background refresh can be turned off.

    I like most of what I have read about the new Pixel phones, but I think Google missed the boat by not building the IP67 standard into the first models. High level dustproofing and protection agiainst short term shallow water immersion are necessities to my mind. If HP and Apple can do it on their flagships, Google should too.

  7. 5234

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

    Yes and no.

    This is the con of ARM-based operating systems without unified firmware interfaces.

    Android isn't "fragile", but the kernel, modules, drivers, and such, all have to be designed and compiled to be compatible with the hardware.  One of the worst bits is that most ARM chipset manufacturers still insist on using closed-source firmware and drivers, which limits even Google's ability to provide code through the AOSP and Chromium projects.  Each SoC is designed differently.  Testing is limited under those scenarios, which delays releases.

    This is what Torvalds was talking about when he talked about preferring x86 at a recent talk:

    This was also an interesting chat:

    (Linaro is a steering committee for a common Linux kernel on ARM)

    These reasons are also why we haven't seen Windows on many ARM chipsets either, because ultimately, most ARM SoC vendors are not investing in UEFI for a common interface.  I think the biggest problem is that ARM Holdings is not willing to enforce any kind of SoC interoperability.  That decision could be business politics, where SoC vendors demanded full autonomy, or it might just be an oversight that was never rectified.  As for now, common hardware interfaces are just a suggestion.

  8. 5349

    "an era of always-beta software" we call that "maintenance" where I work. Every release is new features and bug fixes. Nothing is ever feature complete, nothing is ever perfect.

  9. 442

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

    Yes, yes it is.  Plus this also shows the great disparity of hardware in the smartphone market.  It's nowhere near as tight as the PC market is on cross device hardware compatibility, which was ironed out more than 2 decades ago when the market refused to put up with this problem.

    And, just a preference, but the round icons are ugly to me.