The rollout of Android Nougat appeared to be off to a good start this year, with a number of handsets seeing the update and many more promises being made about upgrades arriving in the not too distant future. However, waiting for Nougat is becoming an increasingly frustrating situation for many, as a number of manufacturers have delayed, postponed, and even cancelled their upgrades recently. Quite frankly, this easily avoidable situation is becoming a bit of a mess.

For a recap, just a few days ago Sony halted the roll out of Nougat for its Xperia Z5, Z3+, Z3+ Dual, and Z4 Tablet. The reason, a number of bugs related to audio playback.

HTC has also previously twice delayed its roll out of Nougat for the HTC 10, first pulling the update for a number of bugs and issues, then appearing to suffer from similar problems again just a couple of weeks ago, and today we have another delay in Europe for “technical issues”.

That’s not all either: ZTE is now declaring that Nougat for its Axon 7 won’t be arriving in January, stating that the software does not currently meet its “quality requirements”. Instead, the company aims to send the upgrade out to customers some time later in the quarter, possibly as late as March.

I’m sure you can spot the common theme here: software bugs. While these are often unavoidable in one form or another, the fact that so many manufacturers are struggling to roll out stable software is a symptom of a larger industry problem – manufacturers are simply promising more than they can deliver and shipping unfinished products. The practice needs to stop.

After initially promising an update in January, ZTE has had to push back its Nougat update for the Axon 7 until sometime later this quarter.

Delays > bugs

Of course, a short delay is better than a buggy release, but companies and consumers would be better served by OEMs not setting themselves deadlines that simply can’t be met in the first place (something HTC learned in the past). Unfortunately we’re now trapped in this cycle of over-promising due to consumer eagerness for the latest version of Android, combined with the brownie points on offer for manufacturers that promise to have an update out the fastest.

Social media certainly hasn’t helped this trend, with a never-ending stream of questions and criticisms about slow updates, so it’s ever so tempting for PR departments to promise the world just to score a few pleasantries.

Fast updates are certainly welcome, but we've reach that point where the race is starting to negatively impact the quality of products coming out.

Of course, prompt updates are certainly a welcome side effect of the competitive Android landscape, but we’ve reach the point where the race is starting to negatively impact the quality of products coming out. Sure, making the update deadline is great, but missing it only causes consumer resentment and a PR backlash that has to be dealt with.

Free beta

Even the increasing prevalence of beta updates is starting to become a worrying sign. Operating a small closed beta to iron out the last few bugs is one thing, but we’re seeing a number of companies running highly open betas for months and still shipping bug-filled updates that need to be halted.

This essentially encourages consumers to test out a company’s software for free, something which they should really be paying professionals to do effectively and promptly. Consumers shouldn’t have to keep up with the latest betas to first get and then fix issues; companies should be providing stable releases suitable for mass consumers who don’t want or have the time to spend keeping up to date with changelogs.

Companies run open betas for months and still ship bug-filled updates that need to be halted.

If we start seeing an increasing number of OEMs offering beta updates, you can bet that this is just a cop out to side-step the issue. It effectively allows manufacturers to promise fast updates but then not have to bother polishing them for the majority of consumers until months later. These days we treat availability of a beta program as though it were an actual public release. As consumers, we should be incredibly sceptical of this.

Mirror, mirror

All of this is building to a potential major shaking up of consumer confidence in manufacturers’ software, and this could eventually trickle down into a more widespread scepticism about the quality of Android on the whole. With so many updates running into issues, how can consumers trust that their next OTA isn’t going to ruin their experience?

The buggy mess OEMs bring to the market reflects badly on Android as a whole.

It won’t take many reports of bricked handsets or crashing software before general consumers begin to build the impression that Android is a bug-riddled mess, and may be tempted to try iOS for its “just works” reputation.

As Android enthusiasts, we know that this isn’t true of the actual source code, but if a buggy mess is what OEMs bring to the market then that’s effectively what Android becomes.

We know that Nougat itself is not bug riddled, but slap-dash OEM implementations risk damaging the reputation of the entire Android ecosystem.

Great expectations

That said, I’m certainly not suggesting that OEMs don’t announce which phones they plan on updating, but an attitude of “it will be ready when it’s ready” would help avoid the disappointments and frustrations while at the same time ensuring better quality rollouts. After all, good communication is about keeping people informed accurately, not about making unrealistic promises.

For their own sake, companies need to slow down and polish their products.

For their own sake, companies need to slow down and polish their products, less they risk damaging their reputation and that of the broader Android ecosystem for a few positive replies on their Twitter accounts.

We as consumers can help ease the situation too by putting less pressure on OEMs to update their devices too quickly and not buying handsets simply because a company promises us something in the future. Instead, we should be willing to accept that a good update is worth waiting for, while still holding companies fairly to account when they fail to deliver on their promises and/or quality.

Robert Triggs
Lead Technical Writer covering SoCs, displays, cameras, and everything in between. In his spare moments you'll find him building audio gadgets.