When Google officially announced the launch of its Android 7.0 Nougat operating system this week, I couldn't help but notice something strange in the air.
Not my sudden hankering for a Mars Bar, mind you; that much I expected. The bizarre part was that despite being a major new Android release -- and one with quite a few noteworthy new features, at that -- the launch of Nougat just didn't feel terribly exciting.
It wasn't anything about the software itself, really. It was more the fact that we've known pretty much everything there is to know about Nougat since Google first took the wraps off it this spring.
Google's been doing developer previews of Android for a few years now, of course, but this year catapulted the pre-release peeking to a new pinnacle -- with an initial reveal in March (instead of in May or June like we've seen before) and a simple one-click way for anyone to get pre-release betas as regular over-the-air updates (with a compatible device).
All of that made this latest version of Android more accessible than ever, months before its arrival -- and as a result, the launch itself felt a little lackluster. There wasn't anything wrong with it, per se; it just lacked the pizzazz typically present in major OS reveals. It was anticlimactic in a way that goes against everything we've come to expect from these sorts of occasions.
Here's the twist, though: That's actually okay. In fact, it's downright fantastic.
For whatever reason, modern OS announcements have become a bit of a stage show -- both figuratively and literally. We can probably thank the Jobsian era of Apple for setting such expectations (after all, what would a "special event" be without scores of silly superlatives and oodles of flowery adjectives?). However they started, though, it's hard to deny that "oohs" and "ahhs" have become a core ingredient of tech debuts today.
Google got on board with the trend for a while. The company held a dedicated event to announce its Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS way back when and then did flashy reveals of the following few releases as part of its annual I/O conferences.
But while this year's subdued unveiling may not have had the once-requisite suspense of a theatrical production, it's hard to deny that its more gradual approach will be better for everyone in the long run. Sure, drama-loving Android enthusiasts may miss the spectacle of years past -- but think of all we've gained in its place.
First, by making the software widely available five full months before its final release, Google provided a larger-than-ever lead time for manufacturers to get the update ready for their devices. If past years are any indication, those companies may not actually take advantage of that (consider me skeptical) -- but the ability to be efficient is in their hands, at least, now more so than ever.
Second, by getting the software in front of regular users during this development phase, Google gave us all the opportunity to help shape its evolution. At one point during Nougat's previews, for instance, the behavior of the new Quick Settings toggles was changed so that tapping a toggle (like Wi-Fi) opened a detailed panel instead of simply switching the function on or off. Hundreds of users expressed their dissatisfaction with the change in Google's open source Android Issue Tracker, and Google took note -- moving things back to the far more sensible on-or-off switching behavior.
Beyond that, let's remember that having new releases so readily available before their launch means any enthusiast can try them out and live with them long before they're officially out in the world. You don't even need any technical knowledge of bootloaders and the likes, as you have in the past; it's quite literally as simple as clicking a button on a page and waiting for a download to begin.
And there's even a little extra icing on that oh-so-nougaty cake: As countless participants discovered this week, being a part of the Android beta program seemed to put you at the front of the queue for the full release rollout. That created a hassle-free way to skip the slow-moving line and get the final OS the moment it became available.
Nougat's launch may not pack the exciting punch we've gotten from past Android unveilings, but this less flashy approach sure does deliver a lot of practical benefits. And I don't know about you, but I'd certainly take all that meaningful value over a pinch of short-lived showmanship anytime.