Nougat: the epitome of Android's fragmentation problem

Nougat: the epitome of Android's fragmentation problem

Google has ended its beta program for Android Nougat. This is understandable - its successor Android O is almost here, and its beta program must launch by Google I/O at the latest. However, the end of the beta program is not a reason to celebrate for Android. Nougat let us down in many respects.

All things considered, Android Nougat was a disappointment. It contained very few new features and suffered huge problems with updates. It appeared on short notice ahead of the IFA, and Nexus users who were promised an update within a few days ended up waiting many weeks. A bad start, but that was just the beginning. 

Was Android 7.1 the mistake?

Google's own smartphone came onto the market simultaneously with Android 7.1, including many exclusive features. But which of these are from Google and which belong to Android? It's not easy to tell at all. The new Pixel launcher seemed to introduce new concepts that were initially exclusive to Google smartphones. However, this was not the case. The new swipe motion for the app drawer for example is now a part of the Android launcher. 

It got even worse. Google brought out the second Nougat version with Android 7.1 - around the same time that the first Nougat updates were released. However, as these updates only needed Android 7.0, most of them were no longer new. 

But that wasn't enough for Google. They then released Android 7.1.1, a bug-fixing version of Android 7.1. Version 7.1.2 came afterwards, and was a combination of further bug fixes and micro-features. It even had its own beta version! This hardly seems like a sensible update structure. 

Android Nougat slowly begins to spread

The distribution figures for Google are clear: the growth of Android Nougat is slow. In the same period of time, Android Marshmallow had long cleared the 10 percent hurdle. But after eight or nine months, this isn't a particularly impressive achievement. Google had originally suggested (or threatened?) quarterly releases for Nougat. Since releasing Android 7.1.2, this is no longer a possibility. With the closure of the Nougat beta program, we shouldn't expect any further feature releases for the operating system.

I contributed to an article that compared Lightning to USB type-C, which earned me the reputation of being an Apple fanboy. In consideration of the many articles published at AndroidPIT, this is a title I can't entirely deny. Regarding updates, I find myself staring enviously at the Apple universe. Of course, it's unfair to compare Apple's iOS and Android directly. Apple controls the production of both its hardware and software, preventing any third party from delaying the release of updates. Google itself does a good job and updates are usually released swiftly. In the case of Nougat however, this did not run as smoothly as usual, and after two years, new Android versions were halted completely.

nexus 5 image
The good old Nexus 5. / © ANDROIDPIT

Google should learn from Apple but not copy them

Ever since the Nexus 5, hardware performance is sufficient to justify further use and new versions. Apple supports its iPhones for an extremely long time, often adding new features to old iPhones and iPads. Users also receive an up-to-date operating system. There are certain avenues that could also be interesting for Android to explore. One example concerns the present requirement to have OpenGL ES 3.1 for Vulkan. This has the effect of eliminating many 2014 smartphones from the update race, even though hardly anyone actively uses this feature.

Google cannot copy Apple entirely, nor must they. But Google has made it very difficult for its hardware partners to develop Android updates for Nougat. It almost seems as if Google has entirely accepted Android's version fragmentation. Ultimately, it's the third party manufacturers who are responsible for slow Android updates. Clearly, Android Nougat's release structure of countless mini-versions has made the entire platform more complex. A notable comparison is that Marshmallow came in two versions, while Nougat came in four. 

This can't be good news for the development of updates. Google would need to get its hardware partners on board to improve the situation as this can only work as a team effort. Google has irritated other manufacturers with its careless release plan - what happens if a frustrated Samsung abandons Google and switches to Tizen instead? This would be a daring move that would create dire problems for other Android manufacturers. 

Android O Hero
Will Google make amends with Android O? / © ANDROIDPIT

With Android O soon to enter beta status, Google has the opportunity to redeem itself. But it's already apparent that Android O will only include a few new features. Google can still seize the opportunity to work out a more partner-friendly release plan. In any case, the fact that Google will stop releasing new Android Nougat versions gives us some hope. We'll only find out later this year however, whether Google has learnt from its mistakes with Android Nougat. 

What do you think of Android Nougat so far? Are you satisfied, or do you not care about updates? Let me know with a comment! 


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  •   24
    Deactivated Account May 13, 2017 Link to comment

    I don't agree I don't think the problem is with google, the problem (bottle neck) starts with manufacturers and carriers. Just look at samsung when was the last update for the s7/edge and s6/edge, some received this month a update some haven't. Some of these devices don't even have nougat yet. And to think if samsung move to tizen it will be better is a pipe dream, if they can't even update their devices properly with Android then developing and updating tizen will even be worse mark my words. We have seen how useless their firmware for their smart tv's are/were. And if the problem lies with google why is it that their devices have 7.1 or later which no other manufacturer have on their devices to my knowledge. I bet if google cut's out the manufacturers and carriers you will see a huge difference and updates will be much quicker. This year it's much worse than previous years and I'm starting to get the idea manufacturers are deliberately slowing down (like a slow strike of some kind) the updates. I see manufactures/carriers updating old devices like s5's and tablets etc. with marshmallow but months go by without a update for newer models. So if they don't have enough time to update how do they have time to update these old devices? Why spend time on old models when they claim they are under such pressure to update new models?

    Dean L.Deactivated Account

  • Fullmetal Jun May 12, 2017 Link to comment

    I believe it'd be better for Google to release new major os versions once in 2 years. Release an A-spec(7.0.x) in the 1st year & a B-spec(7.1.x) in the 2nd with minor bug fixes in between the 7.0 & 7.1 versions. Because at this point Android is ahead of iOS and its newer versions are only competing against itself. The only competitors to Android O are N, M, L. This will give people a 4 years update. Manufacturers put their own features regardless of Android version anyway.

    Dean L.Deactivated Account

  • Steven Rowan May 12, 2017 Link to comment

    If there are so many problems with Nougat, I hope I get Oreo instead.

  • Francesco V. May 12, 2017 Link to comment

    With the new Android O, the fragmentation will only increase. Manufacturers, carriers and Google (Alphabet) are all to blame, as their incapacity to agree on a better scheme leaves users with old, diverse OSs. Alphabet seems to be going the Apple way, releasing hardware and going against its manufacturing partners. Let's observe the next steps.

    Dean L.Deactivated AccountDeactivated Account

  • Kattz May 12, 2017 Link to comment

    Well, I had to do 2 factory resets to figure out just what app was f*** up my Note 5. It's still overheating but at least the battery life has improved a bit. At one point it was only getting 10 minutes of SOT and six hours total battery life.

    My Nexus 6 has the speakerphone problem. It ran great on Marshmallow. At least that one is easy to fix. I don't want to root the Note 5 and lose the Knox security and have features disabled.

    Overall, I'm not impressed with Nougat. I won't be updating my Tab S2 when Nougat becomes available.

  • Phil Lettieri May 12, 2017 Link to comment

    Nougat 7.1.2 on Nexus 5x and Pixel C work fine with no problems. I especially like the Split-screen option, now that I learned how to activate it and have all-apps option, instead of only most recent.

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