Jul 01 AT 10:36 AM Dima Aryeh 23 Comments

Should Google release betas for new Android versions?

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Months before the release of a new iOS version, Apple releases betas to developers. When installing a beta, many apps will simply be broken and won’t work. But that’s the point: as it’s only available to developers, they will use it to fix their apps. When the official update rolls out, people won’t have nearly as many issues.

Not only that, but Apple gets feedback from real users and can fix bugs and issues with its software. It’s a valuable way of gathering testers without paying them a penny. And people love being beta testers. How does Google’s approach to new Android versions stack up?

When Google releases a new version of Android, it’s only available to a small fraction of Android users. So if stuff is broken, it’s not that bad. However, every Android release comes with some big bugs and many apps just won’t work with it. Nexus users have to wait weeks or even months for everything to be ironed out. How long did we have to wait to get December back in Android 4.2?

What if Google released betas of its new versions of Android? The company could release experimental ROMs for Nexus devices and allow people to play with them and submit feedback through a source other than the official bug tracker. Nexus users would be ecstatic to try out the latest version of Android before it’s officially released.

Plus, Google seems like the perfect company to do such a thing. Most of its products are in beta as it is, so why not release test versions of Android to their loyal crack flashers? Google has the means and won’t need to take responsibility for any problems with said test versions. And it would make a lot of people happy.

If this were the case, a lot of the bugs people experience with the Nexus devices would be gone. If a test ROM was released a month before Android 4.2 was officially rolled out, it would have been released with working Bluetooth and all twelve months intact. You can be sure that users would find these bugs in a heartbeat, and Google would have plenty of time to fix them. It honestly seems like Google has a pretty bad testing department, so outsourcing it to the people to do it for free would be a fantastic idea for us all.

Offloading a significant amount of work to the Android community could allow Google to make Android even better. Android gets better with every update, and we’re greatly looking forward to Key Lime Pie. But if Google could provide loyal Nexus owners with a beta ROM or two, we would be grateful and would gladly help with bug fixing. Hell, our developers fix Google bugs as it is.

Another huge advantage of this is that developers can fix their apps before the official update. When the updates roll around, a lot of apps break and become unusable for days or even weeks. With an experimental ROM, developers could get their apps working with the new version of Android before release. It would save a lot of people some serious headaches.

I know many of you don’t like taking a page from Apple’s book, but no one can deny that Apple got a lot right. This is one of those things: providing its developers with the opportunity to both report bugs and fix their apps before release.

Dima Aryeh is a Russian obsessed with all things car and tech. His time is split between gaming and fixing his racecar. He also does photography in his spare time.

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  • KPeter0314

    I’d be all for this if they could get manufacturers like Motorola, HTC, etc. to follow suit.

    I have been waiting for 4.2 on my Razr HD Maxx for some time and would like to believe that it might still happen. If opening up a beta program like this would speed things along I would participate.

  • jerrbomb

    Very good read.. As I’m a beta tester myself.. It’s a good approach to get the community more involved with your product before the final release.. It will benefit both parties and create less problems when the product actually releases.. I agree with you there.. Good read..

    • http://www.androidandme.com Dima Aryeh

      Thank you, good sir.

      • jerrbomb

        No. Problem.. The only issue I have with the whole topic in general is exactly what BetterWithRoot was saying.. People would do as they normally do.. Which in this case would be take the beta and customize it with their own flare and basically sloppy on their decor.. I mean this still isn’t a bad idea as it would still allow for the community to put their two cents in so Google can know what is to be done before the finalized version is released.. Either way I guess there are pros and cons to everything eh?

        • http://www.androidandme.com Dima Aryeh

          Absolutely. Everything has a downside. However, big ROMs like CM wouldn’t be releasing nightlies with these beta ROMs. They would be experimental, and people would run them if they so choose. I think it’s just another option, which is fine by me! The customizing would be defeating the point of said beta ROM, but there will be people who will run it specifically for bug testing I’m sure.

    • John Doe

  • clocinnorcal

    I, for one, would love that! As it is right now I am impatiently waiting for 4.3 and keep checking the N4 XDA thread every day or so to see if there is a whiff of it around.

  • Hasus

    Android beta is a new nexus device. All the new versions were released in beta condition with full of bugs. The small versions after fixes these bugs

    • http://www.androidandme.com Dima Aryeh

      Exactly, and actual beta releases could alleviate that issue. If people tested them, reported bugs, Google could fix them before release instead of releasing broken Android updates.

  • jerrbomb

    I agree with you.. And maybe that’s why Google hasn’t done any such thing..

  • http://www.androidandme.com Dima Aryeh

    You raise a very good point!

    About Honeycomb, that’s how I image they would handle it. No source release, just ROM. So people can’t work on the kernel bugs without code injection (which takes a while to get working anyway). Sure, people would cook ROMs and take bits and pieces from the beta ROMs, but that wouldn’t really be a detriment to Google.

    This is the way I think about it: Android 4.2 was released officially in beta form. It was pretty broken. If they released a beta a month before official release, imagine how much better the official release would be.

  • Max.Steel

    Very insightful piece.

  • alexanderharri3

    This type of thing could fix the whole 4.2 debacle….bug city. Rather than release for free beta testing, providing some incentive towards bug fixes for betas (with some sort of no poaching features/closed beta test for devs) could fix all the bugs, possibly provide devs who do good work with cash or new Nexus devices. Closed beta testing with devs with perks – that would be a win for the general Android population.

  • Kendall

    I think for now Google gets away with it as its not like any new Nexus release reaches a significant audience at first.. unlike Apple who for all intents simultaneously rolls out a new update to 100s of millions.
    As an OEM that would be one of my reasons to wait for a point upgrade unless I felt like beta testing for Google.

    Google of all companies are aware of betas so there must be a reason other than the practicality (strategic most likely) aspect.

    Long term though I agree they will need to improve this aspect

  • Alexander drzfr3shboialex

    Yes they should. Not only will that help point bugs out, but it will help OEMS update their phones faster.

  • Derek

    Why? They already do! Android isnt solid until usually the x.0.2 or x.0.3 release comes out.

  • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

    I don’t really see what the big deal is with developers messing around with the beta. Bugs will still be discovered. Easy fixes may even be implemented by these developers. It’s not like we’re having to purchase anything to get the Android update. Google isn’t losing out on any money. Devs are going to rip it apart whether it’s in beta form or not.

    Just look at what’s being done with Android 4.3 on the Google Play Edition S4s. It’s already been ported to Verizon S4s. Who’s it hurting? No one.

    Individuals that are flashing these custom Roms know they’re doing something slightly risky. People participating in beta testing know they might be getting something that doesn’t work right. If you want something perfect, wait.

    We know that Google dogfoods their apps and probably new versions of Android, but something bugs aren’t being caught. Like Dima said, I think the majority of Nexus owners would be more than willing to beta test. It would be free testing, and they’d end up with a better product.

    As it is, there are probably Nexus owners out there that want a polished product, who end up having to use something that seems unfinished. That’s frustrating when there isn’t a lot you can do with it. (CC http://androidandme.com/2013/06/opinions/one-year-later-the-nexus-7-has-gone-from-the-best-to-worst-tablet-ive-ever-owned/)

  • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com DroidSamurai

    But, isn’t it the whole idea of what the Nexus line is for? I mean, look, Google has never promoted the Nexus family as consumer devices. The only exception is probably the Nexus 7, which seems to gain a lot more consumer interest because of its low price at that point (its price is no longer considered as low any more.) Plus, just like the iOS’s beta program, I can guarantee you that only a tiny little bit of Android users will see the stable version within 6 months, and just a bit more will see it within a year — and a whole lot of them won’t ever see it.

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      I agree with you to a point. You’re right that the Nexus line has been there more specifically targeting developers and pushing for android development. But if Nexus was a Beta program, why would manufacturers be jumping on Android builds like 4.2 and 4.2.1? I think my wife’s Note II is still on 4.2.1. Granted, Samsung probably took care of any issues there were with 4.2.1 before pushing the update out, but it shows Nexus isn’t fully being used as a beta. Everyone would wait until things were ironed out before jumping on a build and pushing out the updates, right? I could be wrong. Just my $0.02…

  • donger

    No need. Android gets updated well, We don’t need more fragmentation.

  • Juan Luis

    Droidium OS? It Does have a ring to it.

  • redraider133

    They could do something like what moto does with their beta test and feedback network/portal. Gives users a taste of the latest and greatest and they also get hands on feedback that they may not have gotten while using it in house. A win for both company and consumers.