Google is expected to release two new HTC-built smartphones later this year, the Pixel and Pixel XL. Although Google has long used its Nexus brand to debut new versions of Android, the two new devices this year are rumored to ship with something even newer than Google’s delicious Android 7.0 Nougat.
Twitter leaker and Android developer LlabTooFeR claims that the Pixel and Pixel XL will come with Android 7.1, meaning that there’s a good chance we’ll never see brand new phones running the just-announced version of Google’s new OS.
Google's Pixel and Pixel XL to be released with Android 7.1 (NMR1).
— LlabTooFeR (@LlabTooFeR) September 5, 2016
There isn’t much to go on right now, but the build number and version number indicate that this is a minor update rather than a larger update to Nougat. That’s not really surprising: Android 7.0 Nougat launched just last month, and the new phones probably won’t be on shelves until October. Given the number of Android security flaws that are always uncovered in the wild, selling a brand-new phone with two-month-old security flaws is a bit of a no-no.
On the flip side, this means that Google is prepping yet another new version of Android. Meanwhile, top Android vendors like Samsung and LG aren’t even close to getting Android 7.0 updates pushed out, and now they have another new build to worry about.
So, apart from the version number change, the software on the Pixels is expected to be roughly the same as 7.0 Nougat. Some small details, like the hidden customization menu, could debut on the Pixels with Android 7.1. Saving small feature bumps for the new phones would be a sensible move for Google, and possibly help it ship more phones.
This feels like the year that Google’s Nexus program will peek its head out from beta. When the Nexus program launched in 2010, it was intended mostly to serve as a testbed for Android phones, and to give consumers access to an unmodified Android handset.
When Google launched the Pixel C tablet last year, it was heralded as the first Google device fully “designed and built” by Google. That level of interest shows that Google really cares about these devices — and with non-traditional hardware makers like Microsoft making waves with new hardware, Google wants in.