15 minutes, and 8 months

Today is release day in the Android Open-Source Project. I'm nervous. I'm caffeinated. I'm tired too as I've spent long hours in the last few days putting the last touches together and the associated stress prevented me from sleeping well (admittedly, so did the jet lag after returning from a recent ski trip in Europe).

I've got music playing through my headphones to isolate myself from the ambient noise. I've been spending this morning alternating between Silver Swans, The Soft Moon, Scraping for Change, and Ag Silver.

As soon as I got the final green light, I sent an announcement, and I started running the scripts that run the many git commands involved in pushing source code out. It took me about 2 hours overall, counting a few interruptions from coworkers that needed my immediate help. Other parts of the push had been speculatively scheduled for today ahead of the green light and just needed a small nudge.

The public excitement that surrounds such a release is gratifying. I continuously spend a lot of effort preparing such a release, improving my tools, testing things, eliminating dependencies. The way people respond to the release justifies the time spent making sure that the release process is as smooth as possible. I got my 15 minutes of fame again, at least in the community of technology enthusiasts.

Now starts another 8-month waiting game. In over 10 years working on the software side of the cell phone industry, I've learned that it takes about 8 months between getting the software ready and seeing it widely deployed. Edit: Meaning, deployed on new devices.

Why 8 months? It's about the time it takes for the software to get ported to the chips that get used in a new phone, then to get it to run on the actual phone, then to have features added to it by the manufacturer, then to have it customized for the specific phone and for the specific operator, then to have it tested by the device manufacturer, then to have it certified and approved by the operator that will sell and support the device, then to have the actual devices manufactured, distributed to the stores and put on the shelves.

Now, 8 months is just an average, a rule of thumb. The real development schedules can vary by a large amount in both directions. As a rule of thumb, though, it does tell me that 4.0.4 will be quite widely available on new retail phones 8 months from now, i.e. for the 2012 holiday shopping season. 4.0.4 is a solid release, so I already anticipate that 2012 is going to be yet another great year with plenty of exciting new Android devices.

What I do not know, however, is the precise schedule for the release to any individual retail device. I don't even know it for the flagship devices that Google is directly involved in. Thanks for not asking about those, I really can't answer such questions.

Have fun with 4.0.4!

Edited to clarify that the 8-month rule of thumb applies to new devices, not to updates to existing devices that typically require a lot less time.
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