New Android versions have always been released on a fairly regular schedule—in late Fall, Google debuts a new Nexus device, while simultaneously publishing the next iteration of the world's leading mobile operating system. But things are different this year, as we now have numerous indications that Android Nougat could be released as early as August or September.
In years past, the standard October-November timeframe meant that the new Android version's debut was often overshadowed by the annual iPhone release, which occurs in late September. This may very well be the motivation behind bumping up their release schedule—perhaps Google wants to steal a bit of Apple's thunder this time around.
The idea of an early Android release is supported by some solid evidence, including information straight from the horse's mouth. But just today, Reddit user brianmoyano received a firmware update that appears to be a near-final version of Android 7.0, so the official release could be even sooner than we've thought.
Users have been able to install a preview version of Android Nougat for months now, but the firmware was clearly marked as "beta." However, when Redditor brianmoyano went to withdraw from the beta program after installing 7.0 on his Nexus 6P, something strange happened.
Instead of receiving a firmware downgrade to Android Marshmallow like he should have, the update server sent him an even newer version of Android Nougat. This version was marked as an internal, Googlers-only edition of Android 7.0, with a build number of NRD90M—clearly newer than the latest public beta, which is NPD90G.
Google uses internal testing versions like this when they're almost ready to release a new product, a process referred to as "dogfooding." Pair that with the firmware's reported security patch date of August 5, 2016, and this is obviously a version that we weren't supposed to see.
But this internal build is not marked as "beta," unlike the latest public version of the preview. Normally, you'd see a "Beta help" Quick Settings tile, but it's conspicuously absent here, suggesting that this is not a beta release. All signs point to this being a behind-the-scenes release of the final Android Nougat build intended for Googlers only, but there's even more evidence to support this.
Google's own timeline for Android Nougat clearly states that the current public version (Preview 5) will be the last beta release before an official version debuts in Q3 of this year. Considering this leaked dogfood version is newer, it can only mean one thing: Android Nougat is almost ready. Quarter 3 ends in September, so we can safely assume that the new Android version will be out in the next two months—a lot sooner than the usual timeframe.
The first question to ask here is "Why so early?" The only logical deduction is that Google is trying to get the jump on Apple. The Q3 timeframe means that Android Nougat will almost certainly be unveiled before the iPhone 7 and iOS 10 in early-September, so perhaps Google is hoping to get a couple of news cycles to itself before Apple starts hogging the spotlight.
Another aspect to consider is the fact that Google has always debuted a new Nexus device on the same day the new Android version is released each year. We've already seen renders of two new Nexus phones built by HTC, so they're nearing completion, and having some time to themselves in the limelight could work wonders for Nexus sales this year.