Releasing the source code for a new version of the Android platform is a significant process. First, the software gets built into a system image for a device, and put through various forms of certification, including government regulatory certification for the regions the phones will be deployed. It also goes through operator testing. This is an important phase of the process, since it helps shake out a lot of software bugs.
Once the release is approved by the regulators and operators, the manufacturer begins mass producing devices, and we turn to releasing the source code.
Simultaneous to mass production the Google team kicks off several efforts to prepare the open source release. These efforts include final API changes and documentation (to reflect any changes that were made during qualification testing, for example), preparing an SDK for the new version, and launching the platform compatibility information.
Also included is a final legal sign-off to release the code into open source. Just as open source contributors are required to sign a Contributors License Agreement attesting to their IP ownership of their contribution, Google too must verify that it is clear to make contributions.
Starting at the time mass production begins, the software release process usually takes around a month, which often roughly places source code releases around the same time that the devices reach users.
Posted in: Android