Myths About Android Updates on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus

If there’s anything that drives me up the wall in the Nexus community, it’s people who spout nonsense about the Verizon Galaxy Nexus. I feel like this post is important enough that if I didn’t do it, somebody else would (and indeed others have). My hope is that this post serves as the end of misinformation concerning Android OS updates on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus.

Myth #1: The Verizon Galaxy Nexus Is Not a Real Nexus

This is complete bullshit. There’s no other way to phrase it. Traditionally, Nexus devices have had all of the following traits:

  1. An unlockable bootloader
  2. Receives Android OS updates directly from Google
  3. Runs the stock, vanilla “Google Experience” build of Android

The Verizon Galaxy Nexus has all of these traits. Everyone who believes that the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is some kind of cheap knock-off seems to buy into the next myth hook, line, and sinker.

Myth #2: Updates for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus Come from Samsung or Verizon, not Google

Again, this is complete bullshit. The updates come straight from Google, although it is true that Verizon has to test and approve the updates first.

When Google rolls out an update to a carrier-free GSM phone or WiFi-only tablet, they can release the update directly to the device without any middle man. Verizon, however, requires testing and approval of any update pushed out to any phone that they sell. This approval process adds significant delays, thus the Verizon model typically doesn’t receive an update until two months after that same update gets released to GSM devices.

This is an incredibly reasonable demand for Verizon to have when you consider that they are putting up money to market and subsidize these phones, plus paying their own support staff to provide tech support. Because of this, they have every right to make sure that updates to phones they sell and support won’t cause a support nightmare for their staff.

Still, once Verizon approves the Google-created, Google-submitted update, it’s Google pushing it out. Now, not ALL Galaxy Nexus devices get updates from Google. As a matter of fact, most Galaxy Nexus devices throughout the world do not receive updates from Google, and instead get their updates from Samsung.

There’s a very easy way to tell whether your Galaxy Nexus’ firmware is from Google or from Samsung.┬áIf you go into your Galaxy Nexus’ “About Phone” screen and look at the build number, you’ll be able to tell instantly. Depending on what region your phone was purchased from, your Galaxy Nexus device will show build numbers in one of two possible conventions:

  1. A build number that is either five or six characters in length and always appears in the format of 3 letters, followed by 2 numbers, and sometimes one letter at the end. Examples would be ITL41D, ICL53F, JRO03C, etc.
  2. A build number that has the same as convention 1 above, but also has a period after it, followed by the baseband version. Examples would be IMM76K.I9250XWLD2, JRO03C.L700FH05, etc.

Convention 1 specifies builds which are created and updated by Google. There are three types of Galaxy Nexus devices that contain builds like these:

  1. GSM devices purchased SIM-unlocked in parts of western Europe that run the “yakju” firmware.
  2. GSM devices purchased SIM-unlocked in the USA from the Google Play Store. These devices run the “takju” firmware.
  3. Verizon devices, all of which run the “mysid” firmware.

Convention 2 specifies builds which are created and updated by Samsung. Often times (but not always), these builds also come with kernels marked “se.infra@SEI-29″ and a build date in KST (Korean Standard Time), clear references to Samsung. Any device variant not mentioned above, meaning Galaxy Nexus devices on Sprint and GSM devices purchased most places in the world, contain this type of firmware.

If you’re going to argue that the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is not a real Nexus on the grounds of requiring Verizon approval of updates, you should actually be directing your ire toward the Sprint variant and the vast majority of GSM devices out there since those devices don’t get updates from Google at all.

Myth #3: The Verizon Galaxy Nexus Will Never Get Another Update

Yes it will. At the time of this writing, GSM Galaxy Nexus devices have seen updates to Android 4.1.2, 4.2, and 4.2.1 since the Verizon variant got its last update (to Android 4.1.1). As stated earlier in this rant, Verizon normally runs on a two month delay from the GSM variants. Android 4.1.2 came out in October, which means Verizon shouldn’t have seen it until December. But then, Android 4.2 came out in mid-November, followed by 4.2.1 two weeks later in late November. Every time Google releases an update, Verizon’s two month counter starts over. So assuming that Google can cool the aggressive update schedule, we should see a 4.1.1 -> 4.2.1 update for Verizon around mid- to late-January.

In the end, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus was, for months, the only Galaxy Nexus variant available in the USA and it is fully supported by Google, even though Verizon has to approve the updates. Verizon has the best mobile network in the United States bar none and if you want your phone on that network, that’s the price that comes along with it.

9 thoughts on “Myths About Android Updates on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus”

  1. You are correct that Verizon has to approve the updates that come from Google, however you are sadly mistaken as to the amount of time it takes Verizon to approve these updaters. The last update from 4.0 to 4.1 took Verizon almost 4 months. I have spoken to Corporate at Verizon and they have assured me that there is NO time period given as to when updates are expected to be released and they “will release updates when they feel it is ready to be release.” Given that all other GSM Nexus devices receive their updates almost immediately from Google, I would say that you are WRONG when you say the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is a “nexus device.” A “pure” Nexus device does not require “approval” from a third party prior to updating its operating system. I have also spoken to tech support personnel at Google who have informed me that they are no longer looking to make “Nexus” devices for CDMA and possibly “LTE” variants because of the nightmare Verizon and Sprint have caused them with tech support calls from people who own the Verizon and Sprint Samsung Galaxy Nexus. So you can rant all you want to about how good Verizon is and try to justify their delay in updates, but even if they are “testing” the software, a GIANT phone company like Verizon should be able to devote a hell of a lot more resources to testing the software much faster then 2, 3 or even 4 months!

    1. “The last update from 4.0 to 4.1 took Verizon almost 4 months.”

      How do you figure that? Allow me to give you some release history:

      GSM devices shipped with 4.0.1/ITL41D initially back in November 2011. GSM quickly got an upgrade to ITL41F, which was still version 4.0.1.

      Verizon launched in December 2011, sporting 4.0.1/ITL41D and had an upgrade to 4.0.2/ICL53F out of the box, on launch day. GSM devices got this update the day after VZW did.

      No Galaxy Nexus device EVER got 4.0.3. The only “Nexus” devices that ever saw 4.0.3 was the 900 MHz SIM-Unlocked GSM Nexus S (I9020T and I9023) and the WiFi-only Xoom variant.

      Between December 2011 and March 2012, all Galaxy Nexus devices remained on 4.0.2.

      4.0.4/IMM76D released to GSM Gnex devices in late March.
      4.0.4/IMM76K released for VZW the last day in May.
      This was a delay of two months.

      4.0.4 continued to be the latest Android release until mid-July.

      In mid-July, 4.1.1/JRO03C released to GSM Gnex devices.
      VZW got 4.1.1/JRO03O in mid-September.
      Again, this was a delay of two months.

      4.1.2/JZO54K released to GSM in October, followed by 4.2/JOP40C in mid-November, followed by 4.2.1/JOP40D in late November. Assuming Google can cool the update speed, VZW should see a 4.1.1/JRO03O to 4.2.1/JOP40D upgrade in mid-January assuming the historically normal two month delay.

      “I have spoken to Corporate at Verizon and they have assured me that there is NO time period given as to when updates are expected to be released and they ‘will release updates when they feel it is ready to be release.’”

      I’m going off historical track record, nothing more.

      “A ‘pure’ Nexus device does not require ‘approval’ from a third party prior to updating its operating system.

      It does when it’s the carrier who is putting up the money to market it, subsidize it on contracts, and to pay support staff to support the phone.

      “I have also spoken to tech support personnel at Google who have informed me that they are no longer looking to make ‘Nexus’ devices for CDMA and possibly ‘LTE’ variants because of the nightmare Verizon and Sprint have caused them with tech support calls from people who own the Verizon and Sprint Samsung Galaxy Nexus.”

      I’ll take this at face value, which basically means I don’t believe that any tech support rep would tell you that, especially because it contradicts other things that have been said by people who are actually in position to make such decisions. If a tech support rep told you that, they should be fired.

  2. FYI, In regards to myth #2, Samsung is now updating new variants… such as the Sprint Galaxy Nexus, not Google.

    The “myths” are a bit out of context. It’s the lack of discussion with consumers, you know, the people that paid good money for these devices, that is the problem: http://www.phonenews.com/in-depth-user-frustration-rises-as-verizon-galaxy-nexus-falls-further-behind-22400/

    Where is your evidence that Verizon will approve 4.2 for Galaxy Nexus? Got a source? They sure won’t talk to us about the topic, and Google has archived toro’s stack… right alongside Xoom and Nexus S, which are also abandoned (a month or two short of the Android Update Alliance commitment timeline, I might add).

    1. I don’t ever recall asserting that Sprint was updated by Google. Clearly it’s Samsung. That’s not up for debate.

      Also, I’m not sure what you mean that Google has archived Toro’s stack. It is fully supported in AOSP with binaries for the network stack readily available and always updated when new binaries are released. Same goes for Sprint’s Nexus S 4G. These devices went back to supported status in AOSP months ago. The Xoom will not be supported because, as JBQ told me on Google Plus, “we stopped trying to support Stingray when it became clear that we couldn’t license the network stack.” This brings me to another point…

      Support in AOSP has absolutely nothing to do with Google providing OTAs for Nexus devices. Period. The end.

      I have no source, but Toro will get 4.2 eventually by sheer logic if nothing else. I fully grant you that it could take six months like it has with the Xoom, but we will see an OTA eventually. The Galaxy Nexus and Xoom are no longer priority devices for VZW and thus, they will approve updates whenever they get around to it. Hell, the original DROID Incredible just got an OTA last week and that phone is over 3 years old. In the end, anyone who knows enough to buy a Nexus and care about the version and build numbers on firmware is also well aware of what happens when you buy a carrier-branded device, Nexus or not. It frustrates me as much as anyone, but we all had the choice. While the device was exclusive to VZW, people could have imported a GSM model. After VZW’s exclusivity ran out, they could have bought a GSM model in the Play Store. If updates are that important to someone and they bought a VZW model anyway, well, excuse me if my sympathy is limited. Also, in case you were wondering, yes, I own a VZW Galaxy Nexus and use it as my daily driver. Before that, I had a non-carrier Nexus S on T- Mobile. I went from getting updates instantly to being stonewalled by VZW. I know how much this sucks as much as anyone.

      1. You made the point that Nexus hardware was being maintained all by Google. Prior to your post, that had changed, and Samsung took over new devices. You are correct that it wasn’t up for debate, but it was up for clarification. It’s downright unclear who is maintaining the Verizon version at this point in time, Samsung or Google… neither will comment on the statement.

        Sheer logic isn’t enough when Google has said that toro is no longer an AOSP device, and neither Verizon nor Google nor Samsung will answer if Galaxy Nexus will receive any current/future Android releases. The companies are simply acting too illogically to rely on logic.

        My take? Verizon either deadlocked with Google on Google Wallet and/or on the hosting of VZW-certified LTE radio binaries. Either way, I would not be surprised at all if Galaxy Nexus only receives security updates for its current 4.1 branch of Jelly Bean.

        1. I never made such a point ever. Go back and read every word of that post. I make it very clear that Google maintains yakju, takju, and mysid (VZW) while Samsung maintains everything else, including mysidspr (Sprint). There’s no need for clarification. As a journalist, clearly you know the difference between reading a post and understanding a post.

          Google later stated that Toro is again fully supported in AOSP, and this happened months ago. You just weren’t paying attention. Toro and Crespo4g are both fully supported in AOSP. See here: https://groups.google.com/d/msg/android-building/XBYeD-bhk1o/BSqjrqpeGPEJ. There is no higher authority on AOSP than Jean-Baptiste Queru. Also, if you visit the Nexus Drivers and Nexus Images pages, you’ll see that Toro and Crespo4g both no longer have the word “Archived” associated with them. As a matter of fact, the only device that is still “archived” is the VZW Xoom because they couldn’t license the network stack.

          Once it is determined who updates a particular firmware variant, that does not change, or at least there is absolutely no historical precedent for that. Google updates takju, yakju, and mysid, so that’s just that.

          As for your take, I doubt Google Wallet has anything to do with it. T-Mobile and AT&T want nothing to do with it either. Mark my words, we will see 4.2.x for the VZW Galaxy Nexus…maybe not this month, maybe not next month, but we will see it. When we do, I expect you to come here and eat your words. Conversely, if the day comes when Google ceases supporting the Galaxy Nexus with future updates (as happened with the Nexus S and Xoom when 4.2 came out) and the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is still stuck on 4.1, I will humbly eat my words as well. Deal? ;)

          1. For the record, Google refuses to affirm that toro is still part of AOSP. I’m aware of the delisting/relisting, that was in the ramp up to 4.1. Since then, it may have been delisted once again.

            We don’t know. Google won’t answer. The fact they refused my calls and emails all week on the subject speaks volumes about the situation. Same for Verizon and same for Samsung.

            I’m not saying Android 4.2 won’t ever be released. Never have, never will, until one of these three companies has the courage to engage in good customer service and ask a basic question about one of the selling points of (Galaxy) Nexus; solid update reliability.

            I can speak, however, to Google’s methodology that has been provided to me on background. Google doesn’t expect Galaxy Nexus to run the next major Android release. And, they aren’t particularly concerned about if Android 4.1 devices are updated to Android 4.2. I’ve been told multiple times on background that the two are “both called Jelly Bean for a (/ that) reason”.

            I certainly believe there is ample evidence that Google and Verizon are in disagreement on the Galaxy Nexus, it may still be an active topic of conversation. That would be the clearest, simplest reason why the trio won’t speak on the matter.

            Either way, with X Phone coming, I suspect Google would rather save its (remaining) goodwill with Verizon, and focus its efforts with Verizon on Motorola and a successful X Phone launch.

            1. Yeah, we can definitely agree about the X Phone. I’m very curious about that. I think there’s enough information out there right now to suggest that it will definitely be a Motorola-branded product rather than a Google-branded “Nexus” product, but I guess we can’t really know that for sure until it’s announced. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires there. Above all, I’m quite interested to see if it’ll support LTE on all carriers (including T-Mobile since they’re just a pinch away from launching their first LTE markets). If all versions of the phone support LTE, it’ll be interesting to see if phones for certain carriers cost more than others, and what the justification for that will be.

            2. Also, I have no idea who or what your sources are for Google not expecting the Gnex to run the next major Android release, but I certainly find it believable. Galaxy Nexus -> Nexus 4 was a bigger jump in hardware than Nexus S -> Galaxy Nexus was. So when you figure that the Nexus 4 will almost certainly run the next major Android release, being (presumably) one generation behind at that point, it would stand to reason that the Galaxy Nexus would get left behind. Honestly, it came as a shock to most people when they announced that 4.1/Jelly Bean would be released for the Nexus S. Most people figured the Nexus S was done at 4.0.4. Of course, maybe it should have been, because anyone who has seen Jelly Bean run on the Nexus S knows it was pretty painful. The hardware had a hard time with it.

              The Xoom wasn’t quite as surprising, however. When Jelly Bean released, the Xoom was still the only platform that Google had to showcase Jelly Bean in 10″ tablet configuration. Of course, they totally mailed in the Xoom Jelly Bean ROMs, but that’s another story entirely.

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