Google have announced that they are to make the Android update process more predictable with quarterly maintenance releases. With this in mind, @evleaks has recently Tweeted that the next three quarterly maintenance releases of Android Nougat will be versions 7.1, 7.1.1 and 7.1.2. Google appears to already be working on Android 7.1 and the developer preview version is expected to be released this fall. These maintenance releases are expected to introduce new features as well as fix bugs and Android 7.1 Nougat could include the new generation Nexus launcher, Google Assistant and the improved, redesigned Android soft buttons. These point releases follow Google's new strategy of releasing maintenance releases of Android in addition to the monthly security patches.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow was quickly updated to 6.0.1 and there have been no new updates from this, with Google's software engineers working on Android 7.0 Nougat or later versions. One worry with Google releasing maintenance updates to the core Android platform is that it increases the number of different version of Android that manufacturers could offer on their devices, which ultimately could cause confusion for consumers with perhaps four versions of Android Nougat by this time next year. Google's answer to this is to make sure that manufacturers continuously offer the latest version of Android, something that not all device manufacturers are able or willing to offer. Some manufacturers already incorporate their own maintenance release schedules, such as Samsung, where they often update older devices with some of the features taken from newer models.
A fall 2016 release of Android 7.1 Nougat would likely be followed by a winter release of 7.1.1 and a spring release of 7.1.2. This would imply that the winter and spring releases will contain fewer changes to the Android code; perhaps refinements. And whilst there may be more different versions of Android for consumers and manufacturers to pick from, perhaps the critical vulnerability patches will be simplified for manufacturers to incorporate into Android Nougat and later versions? This should make it easier for device manufacturers to keep customer devices protected from discovered vulnerabilities. We will know more as we approach the fall release of the Android 7.1 Nougat developer preview.