Korean firm says its V20 will be the first new phone to run Nougat out of the box. But what does that mean for Nexus — and for everyone else?
LG this morning dropped quite the news bomb on the Android world, announcing that the V20 — the successor to last year's V10 — "will be the first device to feature Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box" when it ships this September. That's a pretty big deal for bunch of reasons. That honor usually goes to a new Nexus handset (or more recently, handsets), developed in partnership with one of the major Android device makers. With reliable sources pointing to final, stable builds of Nougat arriving in August, we'll have an unusual situation where a major new Android version drops well in advance of the new Nexus.
It's also a coup for LG, which scores an important differentiator for its upcoming phone — at least in the eyes of enthusiasts. If the rumors are to be believed (and we'll know soon enough if they are) the V20's major rival, Samsung's Galaxy Note 7, will launch on the older Marshmallow release.
It's unlikely LG was given any special treatment by Google in order to claim its first with Nougat. Most big manufacturers have access to the code for a new version of Android well in advance of the public release. It's more likely LG, knowing Google's timetable, decided to work that into its development roadmap for the V20.
LG gets a PR win. Google gets stable code in manufacturers' hands.
As for Google, it's significant to see Nougat likely launching in August, with the widely-rumored duo of HTC Nexuses apparently hanging back until at least September. You have to go all the way back to 2009 and the original Droid for the last time a new Android version arrived without a Nexus (or equivalent — hi Motorola Xoom) in tow.
But in the greater scheme of things it could be a smart move. Shipping Nougat in August gets stable code in the hands of phone makers ahead of the late-September/early-October rush of new devices. Meanwhile, sticking to the usual fall release window for Nexus phones gives engineers time to finish work on — well, everything else Google might want to ship on its 2016 Nexuses. Think Allo, Duo, Google Assistant and Daydream.
The core of Nougat may be done, but there are lots of other Googley things that probably aren't.
In this context, it's also worth remembering this year's big Google release party is about way more than phones. Think back to everything the company announced at May's I/O conference, most of which was given a vague "later this year" release timetable: The arrival of stable Android app support on Chromebooks. Google Home. There've even been credible rumors Google is making a pair of Android Wear watches. Even if Nougat is basically done at this point, there's no guarantee any of this other stuff is. So if Google wants to do the smart thing and launch all its new consumer products at the same time, it makes little difference if the operating system behind some of it goes out a little earlier.
Hell, it's entirely possible the upcoming HTC Nexuses won't even ship with the initial Android 7.0 build. If there's going to be a gap of a month or more between the initial Nougat release and new Nexus phones, they'd likely skip straight to the first MR (maintenance release) — a possible Android 7.0.1 or 7.1. If that happens, well... it becomes very interesting when you recall reports this summer claiming pressure-sensitive display support, originally planned for Android 7.0, had been held back for just such a maintenance release.
Who knows what else we might see in an Android 7.1 or 7.0.1 — or how Google might choose to differentiate its new phones in other ways. The company has hinted at extra software coming to Nexus phones beyond barebones stock Android. In an interview this June, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told The Verge: "You'll see us hopefully add more features on top of Android on Nexus phones. There's a lot of software innovation to be had." Once again: Just because Nougat is done, doesn't mean this extra software is.
Everyone benefits in the long run, hopefully.
We're throwing around some speculation here, but the bottom line is this: LG gets a nice publicity victory out of aligning its new phone launch with Google's roadmap for the stable Android 7.0 release — something it badly needs after the flop of the G5. Google gets the important bits into phone makers' hands earlier than in previous years, (hopefully) meaning fewer new phones launching in Q4 on Marshmallow.
Meanwhile Google engineers get a little more time readying important companion apps and services like Assistant, Allo/Duo, Android Wear, Daydream and Google Home without holding back the Nougat source code drop. And who knows, maybe Google will have something extra special waiting on those new Nexuses when they do arrive.