So we're going to be able to buy the Note 8 or the LG V30 (or both) soon. They have more in common than being the "luxury" model from the companies who make them: they are both launching with Android Nougat instead of Oreo. How much does this really matter, and to whom?
These two phones are important to the companies selling them, the people who will be buying them, and to the Android ecosystem as a whole. And more often than not, these three different groups of things don't have the same goals or needs. And that's important when talking about what it means to launch with an older version of Android.
For the Android Platform
We'll start with the Android ecosystem here because it's the easiest to talk about. It matters.
Android, like every other computing platform, exists and prospers because of the companies and people building applications that run on the platform. When developers stop spending time and resources to make third-party apps, even the best platform can die off. We've seen this happen with Windows on mobile. Most anyone who has used a Windows phone will tell you it was a great product or at least a great starting point for something bigger. Because developers weren't there, sales never took off and Microsoft has had to halt the platform while they reimagine it. When it returns, the same thing might happen if the apps people want and need aren't available.
Developers want as many people as possible using their app.
For Google — which is Android's caretaker — phones not running the newest version that can take advantage of the newest features is not an ideal situation. Developers build apps that appeal to the largest number of users, and an app that only 3% of the total user base can use isn't it. Developers can either target the version with the most users, work to provide multiple copies of their apps or build apps in a way to work on both the new and the old, or go for that 3% of users with the new version. We all know what happens, and new apps launch without new Android feature support and don't get updated to use them until there are enough users to justify it (if they get updated at all).
Compare this to iOS, where thousands of apps are ready the minute a new version is released and the rest soon follow. Google could force developers to update within a certain period, but that would drive developers away because phones just aren't running the latest version. And by not forcing them to do it, developers just aren't. It's a catch-22 and there is no way to fix it, other than getting the companies who build phones to ship with the latest version as well as update older models on day one.
For the users
For you and me, a new phone launching with Nougat doesn't matter much at all. And it won't for a while.
This isn't universal. Regular readers of Android Central may be enthusiasts who feel that they need to have the latest version of Android for one reason or another. I'm one of them, and you might be, too. But for the user base as a whole, a phone running Android Oreo will still be downloading and installing apps without any of the latest features because developers aren't incorporating them yet. See the 3% circle above.
Features built into Android are a little different, but once a manufacturer makes its changes to Android many, if not most, of them aren't visible or recognizable. And some have been there for a while because manufacturers have added them already. If you buy a Note 8 or a V30 today, you just won't miss much from Oreo until the Galaxy S7 sees a platform update. That's when there will be enough users for developers to justify targeting Oreo. The few apps that take advantage of things like the Autofill API or emojis and fonts as app resources instead of system resources will be a treat for the few people who get to use them, but there will be no big shift towards building out those apps for a while.
This situation is getting better than it used to, and in a few years, it might be more important for a phone to launch with the latest version when it comes to the user experience. But right now, it's not.
For the manufacturers
It matters and it doesn't matter. For the companies making Android phones, a new version means a lot of new work. And it's more than just spending time and money to update their software for Android Oreo.
Samsung and LG want to build phones we want to buy. That's the core philosophy of their mobile divisions and every company's mobile division. That means they want the software on their latest phone to be well-tested in the field and as bug-free as possible. Because Google's timeline might not match up with theirs, that means shipping the latest version may be risky. Android is getting pretty good about shipping new releases without critical bugs, but when you add an entirely new layer of complexity to the picture it becomes a risk not worth taking. In this case, using last year's version of Android doesn't matter too much.
Companies making these phones have to make a phone everyone loves and that's hard.
The marketing department might not feel the same way, though. There's one big issue that is hard to work around when the Note 8 or V30 launches with Nougat — when to push out updates for them, as well as the Galaxy S8 and G6.
Users who paid the extra money to buy the premium model aren't going to be happy if they are seeing other phones getting an update before they are. Users who bought the high-selling consumer model can feel like they have been waiting longer and should be first. Samsung and LG want both camps to be happy with the brand and purchase from them the next time, so this can get dicey. Most folks buying phones aren't going to be concerned, but the most vocal folks are and balancing resources to satisfy everyone becomes part of the update process. Because of the release cycle for the Note and V series, this becomes a thing every year.
But does it really matter?
You and I shouldn't be concerned with the trials and troubles billion-dollar companies go through to make phones. All we should care about is feeling like we got our money's worth when we buy them.
Worry about what you like and not a company's bottom line.
People buying the V30 or Note 8 will be able to take advantage of all the features built into either and will have their choice of a million plus apps to install from Google Play. By the time we need to have a newer version of Android to use the apps we really want, it will be there. And in the meantime, most of what's new isn't going to be missed by anyone buying.
And for those that will miss it, Google has a phone coming every autumn for you.
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