Does anyone remember a time when I got flamed for calling Google out over their Nexus line? No? Back in late November, I claimed they had lost their initiative, gave in to the pressures of wireless carriers and device manufacturers. They completely lost sight of what it was for a device to be a Nexus.
My wordy argument all started with one very minute detail on a device that was anything but official at the time. It's a detail that is overlooked by many and just a technicality to most. It was small enough for a good portion of commenters to dub me "petty" or "nitpicky". One even paralleled me to "an ex-wife." Alas, I wasn't being petty (but I definitely can be given the opportunity). I was seeing the bigger picture, what it meant for a Nexus device to be tainted by the branding of Samsung's popular Galaxy line and what the Verizon logo branded on the back would eventually mean.
I didn't know it at the time, I was only speculating. Turns out, though, I was spot-on.
Jelly Bean, or Android version 4.1, was officially announced on day one of the Google I/O developers conference in San Franciso back in late June. Towards the end of the opening keynote, Google noted that the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Motorola XOOM would begin receiving their Jelly Bean updates as soon as mid-July. In case you hadn't noticed, that time has come and gone. It is now late August an only a select few of those devices have received their 4.1 updates: the Galaxy Nexus (unlocked), XOOM (Wi-Fi) and Nexus S (T-Mobile).
Missing from that list are three CDMA/LTE devices, the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon and Sprint, the Nexus S 4G on Sprint and the XOOM 4G LTE on Verizon. (The AT&T Nexus S is without an official Jelly Bean update, too.) What makes these three different from the aforementioned devices? Wireless radios and branding. And let's be honest, using the varying radios as an excuse for a software update delay stretching over a month now is total malarky. These devices ran Ice Cream Sandwich just fine. It shouldn't take skilled developers more than a couple weeks to work the specific radio software into Jelly Bean.
The major difference here is that these devices are receiving their updates directly from carriers, not Google. What that means is the updates are subjected to the very same approval process that software updates for any other Android smartphone are sent through. In short, official updates for these devices will always be painfully slow, despite their Nexus branding (save for the XOOM, which isn't exactly a Nexus, but is instead a developer device).
You could argue that this is not Google's or Samsung's fault, that the rigorous update approval process is Verizon's (or Sprint's) procedure. And, for the most part, you would be correct. But you have to consider that Google agreed to this from the very beginning. Google agreed to have Nexus devices receive updates from Verizon and Sprint, fully understanding what that would mean for its Nexus customers.
It's a collaboration of a terrible decision (and weak backbone) on Google's part and a sorely outdated and slow approval process by Verizon and Sprint. (I have my own theories about how Samsung purposefully hindered the Galaxy Nexus so they didn't cannibalize the sales of their own Galaxy devices. But that's another story for another time.)
Next time, Google should avoid carrier branded Nexus devices like the plague. Lucky for us, Google appeared to be trying to get back to its roots with the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q. However, this could create a bit of a hurdle for El Goog.
LTE is on a very steady rise and (nearly) every consumer wants it. Very few will choose a Nexus without LTE over a similar non-Nexus with LTE come time to buy a new phone. However, unless Google creates a Nexus for each provider, there's a slim chance the next Nexus will come with LTE connectivity.
Why is that, you ask? Two reasons. U.S. carriers are in no way planning on making LTE interoperable, meaning they're doing what they can to block devices from other networks. While your AT&T LTE device may operate on the same frequency as Verizon's 700MHz LTE, Sascha Segan of PCMag explains that Verizon and AT&T could utilize portions of frequency "blocks" to exclude competitors' frequencies. And that gets me to my next point. LTE isn't broad enough to be relied on completely. Many will still need supplementary coverage from 2G, 3G and HSPA+ networks to get by, even if and when VoLTE is widely available. There would have to be at least two Nexus styles created, a GSM and a CDMA flavor. But without allowing some sort of endorsement from Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, chances of an LTE Nexus are next to none.
What all of this amounts to is that the true Nexus brand is destined for a life on MVNOs and GSM networks that allow users to bring their own devices. Moving forward, HSPA+ will be your friend. You will undoubtedly be able to buy a "Nexus" in the future with LTE connectivity, just don't expect rapid updates. It will only be a faux-Nexus … unless, by some miracle, Google can swing an awesome deal with a carrier and coerce them to allow direct updates without an approval process. (Ahem, Apple anyone?)
As much as I love LTE, I may pass once the next Nexus is available and buy an unlocked Nexus. I love how fast LTE is and it's extremely reliable in my area. (I rarely dip to HSPA+ on the One X.) But a carrier branded Nexus is no more a Nexus device than the Galaxy S III or One X. It's just a (mostly) stock Android phone with the Nexus branding. All of the other Nexus perks are up in the air or moot.
What about you, folks? Do you think Google should succumb to carrier branding to fit their Nexus devices with LTE? Will all future Nexi be LTE? Or will Google go back to its roots and stall the LTE hurdle for another year or so?