Software update

Nobody likes a trollout. Perhaps the worst words you can see in an announcement about a new release or update to anything is "will start rolling out to users over the next few weeks," or something to that effect. It's called a staggered release. We call it a trollout. It plays with our emotions and, more accurately, our patience.

And it's probably one of the smarter things that happens, at least when it comes to Google releasing things.

That's not to say I have to like it. Chances are I'm just like you. I want the shiny new thing right the eff now. I'm OK with beta testing and I have an unhealthy need to update all the things. It's natural for nerds like us. I sideload core updates more than I care to admit (yes, even while cautioning against it), and I can't remember the last time I actually got an over-the-air update on a Nexus device, instead choosing to load things manually. I probably should go to meetings or something.

I started to learn a little bit about patience when I was given a key to the server room at the newspaper all those years ago. IT wasn't anywhere near my job description, but I ended up at least playing a tertiary part in maintaining our CMS from the newsroom side of things. A couple things I was taught immediately: First is to take your time. Test twice (or more like 12 or 13 times), and push once. But bugs will happen. So push slowly. And never push on a Friday afternoon, lest you want to spend the weekend fixing things. The users will just have to wait.

I've always been jealous of the way Apple's able to release iOS system updates. They're just ... there, available to any and all once they're available. The flip side of that is that Apple has to nail it each and every time. I can't even imagine the stress their QA team goes through before a release. And I certainly can't imagine what things were like last week when the iOS 8.0.1 update went horribly wrong, disabling Touch ID and cellular service devices that updated to it. Apple said only 40,000 users were affected (little consolation to them, I suppose), rollback methods were found, and a new update issued.

The fire hose method is certainly more fun — "Here's the update, everyone come and get it!" — but slowly dripping out updates to the first 1 percent or so, pausing, testing and incrementing from there, certainly allows for more control. Let's remember how Google's Dan Morrill explained the process for a Nexus software release last year:

Rollouts are conducted in phases. Typically they start at 1% of devices for around 24 - 48 hours; we watch the return rates and resulting device checkins and error reports (if any), and make sure nothing looks wrong before sending it to more. Then typically it goes to 25%, 50%, 100% over the course of a week or two.

The same sort of thing goes for app updates. You can choose a percentage of users to receive the update, then sit back and watch for bug reports before releasing to more people. The Gmail app has between 1 billion and 5 billion users. Google Play Services is increasingly important to the Android system with every release.

No, staggered releases aren't about being a dick to the users. They're about procedure, cautiousness, and releasing good products. They're frustrating to us as end users, sure. But they're probably still the right way to go.

A few other thoughts on things ...

  • For what it's worth: When we update the Android Central app, we release it to our beta group for a day or two first, so a few thousand folks can check things out. And a couple times we've been glad we did that limited release first.
  • Taking a quick look, three-quarters of our app's users are on the most recent version. And some of the ones on older releases are on much older releases. Crazy. How do folks not update their apps?
  • Holy crap that's big.
  • I'm going to stick with the Moto X for a little while now, I think. And I'm just not sure what a bigger Nexus would do for me. Maybe something in Android L would surprise. But what would a Nexus have that the Moto X doesn't?
  • Holy crap that's ..., well, I'm just not sure what to think about that.
  • I love subtle Twitter trolls.
  • Seriously, though, I have no doubt some iPhones have bent under what would otherwise be considered normal use cases.
  • But those bending videos are stupid. That's not at all what we're talking about.
  • And while Apple opening the doors to its testing facilities is great PR, that's just about controlling the message. We know that. The publications invited inside know that.
  • I've seen that same sort of testing from LG at a facility outside Seoul, and more recently with Motorola in Chicago. If you think companies don't stress test devices, you're crazy.
  • But what the hell. Maybe you just can't predict everything. Still, a pretty big embarrassment for Apple. Wouldn't surprise me at all to see a subtle design change. Should be interesting to watch for.

That's it for this week. We've got even more device reviews on the way. Stay tuned. Now let's get back to work.