While others are still selling the LTE variant of the Galaxy Nexus, Verizon stopped long ago. While Google issues firmware updates for it, the carrier has yet to approve any of the last four major Android updates pushed for the Google-backed flagship smartphone.
These series of numbers may mean something to you, but to Galaxy Nexus owners on Verizon Wireless, they mean a lot more: 4.1.2, 4.2.0, 4.2.1, and 4.2.2. Those are the last four releases of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). For all four versions, Google offered and built firmware for the Galaxy Nexus.
And, for all four, Verizon Wireless has not approved, authorized, or permitted users to upgrade to those releases. Verizon, like most carriers, requires testing and approval before a device manufacturer can push firmware to a device.
To understand the situation fully, you need to understand how Android is built. The AOSP is comprised of two things; guidelines and source code. Google releases guidelines for what they want to see from an “Android device” – requirements, better known as the Compatibility Device Definition (CDD). Google then partners with a few manufacturers at any given time, and targets a few reference devices. Today, those devices are the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Nexus 10. Previous devices include the Nexus One, Motorola Xoom, Nexus S, and T-Mobile G1.
Sprint has already approved Android 4.2, Google’s second-edition of Jelly Bean, for their variant of the Galaxy Nexus. Sprint and Verizon’s Galaxy Nexus hardware only differs in the frequencies that it communicates with LTE towers, as the two run band-incompatible LTE networks.
We reached out to Verizon Wireless last week, and while they committed to a response, PhoneNews.com did not receive one last week. Requests for follow-up were sent early yesterday and were not returned at the start of business today. Since first contacting Verizon, most of the mobile media has not waited, and reported on the story before us… we are making every effort to share Verizon’s side of the story.
Google and Verizon have, however, had issues with their relationship. While the Droid campaign has brought in massive successes for Verizon, the primary manufacturer of Droid devices, Motorola, is now owned by Google. Further, Google and Motorola appear deadlocked over Google Wallet and its use of NFC.
Pain in the Wallet?
Galaxy Nexus issues may be related to Galaxy Nexus’s use NFC, or more specifically, mobile payments through Google Wallet.
Verizon argues that NFC communications for financial transactions must pass through a “secure element” – a hardware encryption chip in the phone for NFC communications. Google Wallet however relies on a server-side encryption token that bypasses the secure element, but keeps the transaction secure by only relaying a token, and not a user’s credit card or other payment data between the phone and the payment terminal. Google’s approach relies on the security of the cloud, something Verizon refuses to accept as a secure transmission method for payment data.
The deadlock has resulted in Verizon banning Google Wallet from devices. The only other time Verizon has intervened in blocking Android applications, it was fined by the FCC. This was when Verizon attempted to block USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi tethering options. The FCC ruled that while Verizon could charge an additional fee for tethering on unlimited data, it could not block such applications. The FCC left murky what happens when one SIM swaps an unlimited data SIM into a hotspot or other device, something they previously indicated must be permitted.
While some claim that a recent move to remove unlocking exemptions from the DMCA makes unlocking, and rooting, a phone illegal… we strongly disagree with that legal interpretation. We’ll go more in-depth on that later, but rooting a phone without unlocking it does not bypass a copy protection method, and thus may not run afoul of DMCA. It’s something that has yet to be tested in the courts.
One thing is for sure. Google is placing all its bets on Google Wallet, and Verizon has its bets on rival Isis. The odds of Galaxy Nexus being caught in the middle keep going up, with each passing day. And, with it, the frustration and ire of consumers who chose Google’s most powerful Verizon device.
Between a rock and a firmware flash…
In the end, Verizon Galaxy Nexus owners are left in a tough spot. Rooting a phone, installing third-party firmware, can void the warranty. It will add strikes to your Google Play Music device tally (ten total, four device removals per year), and can add bugs and other issues simply from not having full access to private code drivers and resources. But, on the other hand, it’s possible Verizon won’t update Galaxy Nexus further at all. Google Wallet may be a bullet point so strong, that the two sides are at an impasse completely… and won’t update the device at all going forward.
Perhaps Andy Rubin, the founder of Android, put it best. Google consciously chose to make Nexus 4 a device without LTE. They did so because, in their own words, they wanted to be free from carrier controls. They got what they wanted, but as Motorola said about Droid Bionic, owners of the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon are getting a raw deal. They can’t buy a Nexus 4 without changing carriers.
CLarification: Google was contacted shortly before, and shortly after this article was published. No response has been received by PhoneNews.com.