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The insane pace of Android

When things move as fast as Android does, we shouldn't be surprised by bumps in the road

By the time you are reading this, most people who use Google Voice and Google Hangouts are in various stages of excitement and exploration as most of these two services merge together. It has been a long time coming, and the way this merger happened caused me to step back and really think about the pace of software development in general.

When users all across the U.S. started to see that blue box pop up, asking if they wanted to merge Google Voice into Hangouts, the response was spectacular to sit back and watch. Users who had the blue box went from excitement to confusion as the features didn't quite line up the way they had hoped, and users who didn't have the prompt yet expressed immediate outrage at the dismal state of Google's staged rollout system. (Never mind that it turns out Google apparently had jumped the gun a little.)

By the next morning, mere hours later, all of the social networks were filled with excitement, confusion, and anger.

Google doesn't always make things easy on itself, but we could stand to have a little patience.

By midday, it had become clear that Google had a larger play in mind. Hangouts had gotten a well deserved Material Design update, and most of the Google Voice decisions from the evening before started to make a lot more sense. It's still not a complete thought, but what we have now is a much needed improvement in the situation, and it seems likely that Google will complete this thought in Android L.

Oh, right, there's an entirely new version of Android right around the corner. It could be days away, it could be weeks away. We're not totally sure what Google has planned for what is easily the most ambitious and promising update to the platform since Android 2.1. It's easy to forget that there's a whole new world right around the corner, because Android is in this seemingly constant state of change now. We have core apps updating on a regular and consistent bases, manufacturers pushing their apps to the Play Store in order to update them in a timely manner, and the beating heart of the platform is on a six week release cycle. Of all the incredible things that we saw and heard about at Google I/O this year, Sundar Pichai's announcement that Google Play Services would be updating and improving every six weeks is one of those things that didn't get nearly as much attention as it probably should have.

When you think about all of the things Play Services interacts with on your phone now, the notion that this bundle of services is updating every six weeks is incredible. We're talking about location awareness, security, and the nerve center for so many different apps all improving on a six week schedule. Each update isn't going to improve every single feature, but the notion that you as a user have to do nothing at all and see improvements on your phone every month and a half is very cool. This is the kind of thing that has helped make the Chrome browser as fantastic as it is today, and that constant state of iteration is going to continue to be this really big deal that most folks don't even know is happening.

Think about how far things have come, and how much farther they're about to go.

To put this into context, think back six years. Apple had just announced the iPhone 3G and we had just started to hear whispers of an HTC-made smartphone running Android. One year after Apple had announced the original iPhone, it had not only completely updated the hardware but was planning to make the previous model capable of updating to the new version of iOS. Yearly updates for your smartphone was a huge deal, and something none of the carriers or competitors were set up to deal with.

Google followed suit and started doing the same thing — well, it started updating the code on its end, anyway — and the idea that your phone could get regular updates from the manufacturer became this really popular idea. There have been more than a few hiccups along the way, thanks to some manufacturers and carriers still not fully understanding that their users demand regular updates from their smartphones, but that's mostly a conversation for another time.

Android L Lockscreen

Within a span of six years we've gone from being really excited about the concept of yearly updates to not blinking an eye at behind-the-scenes updates every six weeks. In fact, if anything, six weeks isn't fast enough for some things. It's a fascinating thing to think about, and it is something that is uniquely Android. No other smartphone OS is offering this experience, and in much the same way that yearly system updates were once something we as users demanded it won't be long before behind-the-scenes updates is just something we expect from our smartphones.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

71 Comments
  • I will now go and check my version numbers. Posted via my "G3 Modded" Sprint LG G2.
  • One of the best articles on here ever. Great job Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • Completely agree.
  • Totally. Good fuckin write-up. The title should have been "Bitches be Quiet."
  • Lol c'mon Russell Holley, make it happen!
  • PSH, it was a load of crap. Just kidding, someone had to be contrary. Great points and a healthy dose of perspective.
  • Spot on. I will appreciate my 4.3 all day whilst I cope with ios 8 on the work phone. Sent from my Note 3, soon to be Note 4 rommed, with $ in my pocket. Unless I cave and buy one.
  • 6 weeks must be the Moore's law of Android update cycles
    Just like it used to take longer for chip capacity to double, it now happens much faster Posted via Android Central App
  • Eventually though, Moore's law will run into the laws of physics :p
  • Which will create research pressure for finding an alternative. Since mankind exists, growth as always been exponential. Posted via Android Central App
  • Growth has not always been exponential, that would be a pretty absurd assertion.
  • As far as the Hangouts/Voice integration, I still have not received the option to merge! What's the holdup? Can we speed the innovation up a little? LoL Posted via mostly ghost taps on OG N7, in the Android Central App, therefore posts may not be my own.
  • if you have a google voice number, log into google.com/voice or mail.google.com from a browser.
  • Download the hangouts dialler app Posted via Android Central App
  • Very well written, Russell! It is funny that people (hell, myself included) didn't really take notice to that. Having those updates come in the background is WAY more important than version numbers for the latest OS (just to say that you have it).
  • Well I recently got 4.4.4 on my sprint note 3 and it now shuts off every time I put it in my pocket. Awesome. But I have 4.4.4!!!!
  • Hahaha exactly. I love those people: they will complain that another carrier beat their carrier to releasing an update; then, when their carrier releases said update and it breaks something, they'll curse said carrier to scorn and blame them for releasing a half-baked update, haha.
  • Who is the carrier? Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • Let's see: It could be either Verizon or AT&T, BECUZ THERE THA DEBIL!!! (shakes fist violently)
    It could be Sprint, because THERE NETWURK SUKS and THEY UPDAYTS R SLOWUR THEN THEY DAYTA SURVIS!!! (shakes head violently)
    It could be T-Mobile, because THERE CUVRAGE SUKS and JON LEGUR IZ A MOARON!!! (shakes head and fist violently and slightly foams at the mouth)
  • Hahaha! "*shakes head violently*" I can imagine someone doing that too. Just pacing back and forth headbanging about said phone/network.
  • I'm only speaking from experience. I was that guy, haha. When my T-Mobile Note 3 (at the time) received the 4.4 update, my data started acting weird. Prior to me getting the update, I was cursing T-Mobile for being a shitty company and not caring about updates, coverage, customer service, etc. So, I finally get the update, and the Note 3's data started only working intermittently. I was sitting in that hotel room cursing up a storm (T-Mobile is this, T-Mobile is that, those MF's, etc, lol) and shaking my head violently and spit was going everywhere (not a pretty site, haha). The maid that was in charge of cleaning my room said "housekeeping" one time, and when she heard me cursing, you could hear her trying to sneak away from the door, lol. So, yeah, yep, I was that guy. The End.
  • It's not just Android, it's Google in general. They're a fast moving company overall. Of course that's also the reason they make so many bugs and flaws in their updates and projects. Posted via Android Central App
  • Come on, Gmail was in beta for like 6 years Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • True lol Posted via Nexus 7 2013 or Galaxy S5
  • Wait, it's not in beta anymore? Lol
  • I don't care how long you test software it is going to break something somewhere. At least they get it out and 90% of the users are good. They do fix bugs pretty quick too.
  • Well said russell
  • What a great article, Russell! Great stuff! Thank you very much.
  • Yeah I still haven't gotten my blue box yet either...
  • The one in hangouts? I got that one. I am waiting on the other one.
  • This article was pure gold. Honestly, people do take for granted what they get and don't really think about how much effort or thought is put into the things they take for granted. I remember when 4.3 came out, I told everyone I couldn't go out that night, and sat there, going through my phone and looking at all the neat little things that got added. It sucks that the community posts more negative vs positive when it comes to this kind of stuff. I'm sure the developers get frustrated at seeing a lot of whiny, bitchy people that have no idea that their problems could be fixed if they took two seconds and looked it up and followed the instructions to fix it. But they'd rather sit there and rant and rave about how horrible something is and it doesn't ever work, etc etc. But here's to the developers, the app makers, the people at google and the staff here. There are people that love what you do and we may not speak out as much as we should, but keep going with what you are doing, the lurkers appreciate it!
  • ^^^^^ +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • Problem is that unless people see it, they don't quite care. To be honest I don't think a lot of people truly understands what Google Play Services really is or how it works. We only understands that it adds features, APIs and update the framework for security and performance purposes but I don't think any of us truly appreciates what it does and how it does it in the background of our devices because it's so out of sight, out of mind. The reason why people are more interested in the yearly updates is because there are front facing features, functions and a version number with an announcement that makes people excited for yearly OS updates. Google doesn't do that for their Google Play Services, hence, out of sight, out of mind...
  • And sometimes a tweak to the UI. You're right, people only care about what they can see
  • Great piece man! Cool name too (I'm also a Russell). Posted via Android Central App
  • And yet, you still can't increase the size of the SMS font in Hangouts. Hey Google, we don't all have perfect vision.
  • You can increase font size, its under display settings in every Android phone. Posted via Android Central App
  • Booom! Pwned!
  • Those Display settings have no effect on the text size of SMS within Hangouts. Booom! Pwned yourself!!
  • Boooom! Pwned by myself!!!
  • Lol both of those comments gave me a good laugh
  • Howard is correct. It certainly has on every phone I've used hangouts for sms. Bigger and smaller fonts depending on the size I choose in system settings.
  • You're right. I'm wrong. I've been brutally PWNED! --- But in my defense, even the so-called "Huge" Android Font size is still pretty tiny compared to the font sizes available in Handcent.
  • it would be nice if they would stick to their word and support updates for older android devices .. pretty sure theyre moving too fast .. .. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Unless you're talking about a Nexus device, Google has nothing to do with updating those devices.  There are typically several layers of bureaucracy between Google releasing a new version of Android, and you getting the update.  Unfortunately, this is largely an issue with having a platform that is based on open-source code, which means no two Android devices are running *exactly* the same code, and must all be updated individually.
  • My thoughts exactly. Which is why I think they should spend more time with the update process and not being so "insanely fast paced" as their main goal .. When a business or whatever that large starts going so fast that's when they start to lose it .. Posted via the Android Central App
  • My point was more to the fact that a device not getting an update might not be the fault of the manufacturer.  For instance, I have a Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 on Sprint.  Every other model of that tablet (WiFi only and other carriers) has been updated to 4.2, but I still have 4.1.  That's pretty obvious to me that it's Sprint that "sitting on" the update, not Samsung not updating the device.
  • Totally random but I just put 4.4.2 on a old nexus one and it performs OK Posted via Nexus 7 2013 or Galaxy S5
  • Wow seriously? That's impressive
  • Really I found a rom on XDA Posted via Nexus 7 2013 or Galaxy S5
  • There's a 4.4.4 rom for the Nexus One on XDA.
  • It's not going to be the official 4.4 though, that's the problem .. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Why is that a problem?  The extensive community of modders and ROM developers is one of the best things about Android, if you like to "tinker".
  • Russell good article and great points!! To Android and BEYOND!!
  • Great read. Very true. Bought my lg optimus s back in January 2011 and OG EVO 4g Lte few months after that and it's been amazing how much android has evolved. That's why I'm Nexus/AOSP only now. The pure Google experience is the smoothest way to experience android and I've tried it all. I'm primed to see where L takes us. Great article AC (Funny thing I heard today they now require developers to provide a physical address or possibly have their apps pulled from the store) Posted via...The One
  • Only for developers who have paid apps or IAP's.
  • Love this article. Great read!
  • A well written piece and something that most of don't think about when we receive updates and the like. Great to have this zoomed out perspective of how things that would otherwise be left unsaid.
  • or the slow pace pace aijoS... ... ( 0ppo F5) ...
  • Great article! BTW what lock screen are you using in the last picture?
  • That's Android L ; )
  • Lol silly me, being stuck on 4.4.2. Sigh.
  • Well nobody has L unless you sideload it. Posted from my Motorola Moto G.
  • That was not the Android-term you looking for..
  • Great read! My Nexus 4 has and will serve me well for many years to come
  • Well damn! That was a really good read! Nice how it was all tied up at the end. I never looked it at that way. I am now at the point where I demand speedy updates. Lol. Give an inch... Posted via Android Central App
  • Great article.
    Quick question to the commenters: if I'm using Google Voice merely for voicemail via Sprint Integration, should I be expecting that "blue box" as well or is that simply for users who make internet calls with GV?
  • You need 3 apps: Hangouts, Hangouts Dialer, and Google Voice. Also go to google.com/voice to possibly get things rolling. Posted from my Motorola Moto G.
  • I've had all three since Dialer came out on the Play Store, and I've got them all updated since (Hangouts multiple times). I've yet to receive a blue box pop-up, but I'm wondering if I'll be getting my voicemails through Hangouts, or if the integration is solely for people who have been using GV for internet calls.
  • Any news of update to kitkat for Galaxy Grand 2 Posted via the Android Central App
  • This is what finally got me to give up hope on the windows ecosystem and settle into android for the long haul. I was holding out for the longest time, but microsoft finally convinced me they weren't "getting it" when i saw how google was in the news daily with new updates/sw, while microsoft would just drop one massive bomb every 18 months and then go ninja silent.