26
Jun
unnamed

There's been a lot of speculation about just how Nexus-like the Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play edition phones will be, particularly from a technical / software update standpoint. Now, we have some relatively concrete information that sheds light on these issues.

First and foremost, Google will not directly handle software updates for Google Play edition devices. This has been reported as true, false, and generally disputed quite a lot in the lead-up to the launch. We know for a fact now (thanks to Anandtech) that while Google will supply the necessary Android builds to OEMs, the OEMs will be responsible for maintenance of kernels and all the various drivers and firmware pieces necessary for their specific device. The result is that Google gives the OEMs the Android build, and it's then up to the OEMs to make that build work on their Google Play edition device and perform the act of actually updating the phone. Google has issued an official statement that works very hard to not expressly deny that they won't be handling the updates (Droid-life):

On background, we will be working very closely with Samsung and HTC on future software updates for these devices and they will receive software updates shortly after a new version is released.

What's this mean for you? It means that at the end of the day, the onus to update these phones will still be on Samsung and HTC. They will be able to circumvent the carrier certification runaround, and will in theory have much less work to do in maintaining these devices, but the responsibility still falls to them, not Google. This could mean any number of things. It could mean these phones will get updates within days of their Nexus counterparts. But more likely weeks, and possibly even months depending how much attention these phones are actually given by HTC and Samsung. I wouldn't say months is what we should expect, but I'm also saying such a gap is entirely within the realm of possibility. You have to remember, these phones will sell in miniscule quantities compared to their skinned brethren, and that means they aren't as high up on the value chain for software update attention. While it's certainly worth being optimistic about the update process, there's still plenty of reason to temper those expectations until we see these devices receive their first major Android release update.

The second thing we've learned is that Google will not host factory OS images for Google Play edition devices (see JBQ's post on this topic here). This will be up to Samsung and HTC, if they choose to do so. Google will also not be hosting any proprietary binaries (essentially, drivers) for these phones (again, see JBQ). Release of any binaries is, once again, up to Samsung and HTC. Taken together, all this information - as you may already have guessed long ago - means there is very little chance we'll ever see these phones supported in AOSP. It's not impossible, but it is extremely unlikely.

So there you have it: that's basically the nuts and bolts of what doesn't make the Google Play edition HTC One and Galaxy S4 Nexuses. Does this put a damper on the situation, or is it immaterial? Let us know in the comments.

Anandtech, Android Building Group, Droid-life

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • brkshr

    This confirms what I thought when they said "Nexus Experience" at I/O.

  • hoosiercub88

    So not so pure and Nexus-y now are they? More Nexus-ish.

    • Jeremy Reger

      more like, just sold by Google..

      • Ryan Stewart

        Basically, its an HTC One de-skinned and sold by Google. Nothing more.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    So basically it's the same as any other device, except OEMs vow not to add their skins and software, thus naturally (hopefully) expediting the update process. I'm now less excited about these now - it'll all depend on just how fast and for how long the OEMs will act on these promises.

    These are definitely less Nexus'y than I originally thought.

    • ProductFRED

      While Google says they won't take responsibility for hosting the factory images and related software, I think it's the very least they can do considering they're the ones selling it. It's nice that these devices exist, but really it's no different than flashing CyanogenMod on the retail models (maybe more stable).

      It's cheaper to buy a T-Mobile S4, an unbranded OEM battery door for a few bucks, and just flash CyanogenMod/AOKP/Paranoid Android. You can even enable the AWS bands on the AT&T version and do the same. Either way, it'll cost you less than the ridiculous $650 price Google and Samsung are asking for. It's not like you're getting any support from Google by buying either of these phones.

      • yippiedad

        So please tell me where I can get an unlocked S4 for much less than $649, thanks!

        • ProductFRED

          I'm on CellTraderOnline. I know someone's selling an AT&T model with AWS bands enabled for T-Mobile for $485. There's also Swappa.com, which i also use:

          http://swappa.com/search?q=galaxy+s4

          Herp derp. If you pay $650 for an S4 at this point, you were probably just too lazy to search for a better price.

      • Carl Draper

        Except these will get official drivers so everything will work

    • thaum

      Who said it was a Nexus to begin with? It certainly wasn't Google.

      • Cherokee4Life

        They said these phones have a "Nexus Experience". A lot of people took that as being a Nexus device.

        • George Millhouse

          well thats their fault for assuming =)
          there is no pt to these phones at all

        • thaum

          Except "Nexus Experience" doesn't mean "Nexus device" at all. After the "Nexus Experience" devices, there was stories after that they wouldn't be stopping producing "Nexus devices", which would already imply that the "Nexus Experience" devices are somehow different.

      • michael

        thats why you get AOSP on it to begin with it was supposed to be treated like a nexus but just be different in name and hardware

        • Guest

          theres no other phone in the world that comes with aosp by default

    • Asphyx

      Think of it as a SMALL step...
      They cut out the Carrier but left the manufacturer in the loop.

      It makes some sense as they are probably better suited to creating drivers and Kernels for their hardware than Google is. But no it's not purely an AOSP or EXPERIENCE device.

      Which is really what Google should be striving to get for ALL units sold at some point. They just don't want to get into dictating hardware specs the way Microsoft did with their phones and hurt their ability to get the manufacturer on board.

    • ddpacino

      About as fake a Nexus as the Verizon Gnex -- NO THANKS!

    • N4tur4l_b0rn_ch1ll4

      When I had a HTC Sensation, I used a ROM named ... Dunno anymore, to long ago. It was nearly perfect Stock Android, only HTC Cam Software and such where used. Best experience ever! Beats my Nexus to this day, when it comes to photos. But not performance ;)

  • spindoctor

    "Google has issued an official statement that works very hard to not expressly deny that they won't be handling the updates"

    Is that a triple or quadruple negative?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Take your pick.

    • shadowdude777

      Yes.

    • http://www.youtube.com/kimirPORTALS kimir

      Both.

    • Mike Reid

      not, deny, won't

      I see 3.

      • androidymous

        *works very hard*, not, deny, won't

        ...it's a stretch, but it could be considered 4.

  • Roberto Giunta

    Yepp, wasn't expecting anything else. It's a "Nexus user experience" and not a "Nexus". So everybody who is a flashoholic, you're still better advised to get a Nexus, even if it's not as good as those two devices.

    • Aleksey_US

      I'm hoping that the Nexus 5 will definitely be better than GS4 (2 months old) and HTC One (4 months old)...

  • Jeff Messer

    I'm not sure that it's a real issue. Without the carriers in the way, we can put pressure DIRECTLY on the manufacturers to update their devices with no excuses. HTC has already posted the code for the One.

    http://www.htcdev.com/devcenter/downloads

    This is what we wanted. Nexus or not, if the manufacturers want customer loyalty they get to prove their commitment. I'm giving HTC a chance because I like everything about the One and I want stock Android without a contract.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      No, they haven't. All they posted was the kernel source. There are no proprietary binaries, no source code specific to the device that you would usually find in AOSP (such as https://android.googlesource.com/device/lge/mako/ ), and from what I understand not enough stuff to build a full OS image. And no factory images either.

      Google released both kernels and various GPL bits too btw, for both devices (their archive has way more stuff than HTC's own posted one does) http://www.androidpolice.com/2013/06/26/htc-and-google-release-google-edition-htc-one-galaxy-s4-source-code/

      • Jeff Messer

        Well, we'll just have to see then. The fact that even this part is already posted has me crossing my fingers for the rest of the process. HTC needs this (and the carrier One-ses) to be one of the most successful devices they've launched.

  • http://www.ronakg.com/ Ronak Gandhi

    Just imagine people buying these phones thinking getting latest updates quickly with great hardware and OEMs decide to not provide updates to these phones because of minuscule sales.

    That will be bad.

    • Gunny Wallen

      indeed it will.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      The miniscule sales part is what scares me. Google Play-sold devices already have measly sales, and at these prices, I don't see very many people biting at all. The OEMs could quickly de-prioritize updating them.

      • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

        I wouldn't be surprised if these are off-sale altogether in a few months due to poor uptake. What's so hard about maintaining and updating two more devices directly? Its not like they're wildly different devices anyway. Why does everything about the Play devices have to have some major caveat?

      • Matthew Fry

        The real question is: why did they make them in the first place? If Nexus sales aren't very good as it is why bother with something that not even the Nexus fanboys will want?

  • Gunny Wallen

    Boo! Not what I was hoping for, at least, with kernel source CM10.1 and the like will be much more stable. I REALLY wanted to flash a firmware image and convert my HTC One to a Google Edition.

  • Adam

    I don't see the point of these devices anymore. You lose out on the few customization that OEMs provided that weren't useless (fully functional Beats, camera software, improved text messaging and browser apps, etc.) for a vanilla experience that is nearly indistinguishable from the OEM version running a custom launcher. And no guarantee of fast updates.

    You'd have to be a dummy to buy these phones from the Play store.

    • George Millhouse

      EXACTLY

    • Justin Foster

      Indeed. I think it's a cover to work more closely with Moto on Nexus devices...

  • Cole Mickens

    This is just a silly, silly decision. I know they can't publish the same drivers, but I so much respect the Chromium model where they seem to have the device trees inside the Chromium source (or they did at the onset when there were fewer devices).

    They'd finally built up a brand around Nexus - Google updates, Google code, Google posts binaries, gets us away from the BS of the manufacturers that lose interest after they sell the phone... and then they go and give the "Nexus" label to a handful of phones that don't meet what any of the core Nexus users want.

    To put it another way, why on earth would I buy one of these instead of the regular subsidized device with a regular AOSP/CM build?

    • Drew M

      I'm not so sure that Google had a choice. I think that they would've preferred to host the full images, but this is what they are required to do.

      The main reason is that they come with the AOSP bootloader, so you can unlock and relock with fastboot. No other bootloader can be relocked. Also, I might be wrong, but I think the official HTC unlock tool wipes the DRM keys, just as the Sony and Asus ones do. It's a bit of a premium over the subsidized ones, but you truly own the device.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/ron-amadeo/ Ron Amadeo

    Considering the skinned phones are available in stores and will therefore sell eleventy-bajillion more units than these online-only GPE versions, I bet Samsung and HTC will be REALLY excited to stop working on their popular products and push out updates for these.

    I can just picture the pissed-off reddit posts now. Get your popcorn.

    • captain canada

      I'm suddenly not so sad these aren't available in the North...

    • Antonis Tsagaris

      hehe

    • Labrat

      For the sake of the GPE program, one would think Google has some provisions in there to make sure theses phones get updated for at least 18 month in a timely fashion.

      Wether manufacturer get early access to PDK, earlier build or Google pledges to provide more thorough support to the SOC in those phones from day one or something else entirely, they must have some incitative in place for OEMs.

      I guess we will know how much an experiment this is and how the whole thing sticks together when 4.3 code drops and an even better idea when a major 5.X release shows up!

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

    This just revitalizes the same standpoint that most reasonable people had when the announcement was made. We will just have to wait and see what happens...

    Common sense says that these devices will have a lot of attention for the next few months, at least through the end of 2013. After that point, especially once the new flagship phones (SGS5 and HTC Two ) come out, we'll find out how committed both companies are. Ultimately, there's just no way to know how responsible they will be until the time comes for a major update.

    I wouldn't be too critical until we see what actually results from this. Unfortunately, by the time we know if this goes well or not, it will be after these devices have become the "previous generation."

  • Zargh

    "and perform the act of actually updating the phone."

    Are you sure? Anandtech explicitly says it'll still be done "through Google's architecture" in that same blog post, and HTC said "Out of the box, this special edition HTC One will run Android 4.2.2 with subsequent software updates provided by Google" in their announcement blog post: http://blog.htc.com/2013/05/htc-one-google-nexus-experience/

    If the OTAs are still being pushed out by Google, at the end of the day what difference does it actually make if the background legwork is split up slightly differently compared to Nexus devices?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      It makes all the difference in the world, because the OEMs are still the lynchpin of the operation here. With Nexus devices, Google handles it all. It is an important distinction and one that does matter. Whether it will matter hugely in terms of update timeliness, we cannot be certain, but it makes timeliness a potential issue in a way it is not for Nexus handsets. OEMs do not the same priorities as Google, and they don't have same incentive to update (other than less than specific promises made so far).

      As to whether or not OTAs go through HTC / Samsung's servers vs. Google's, that's still a bit hazy. It doesn't particularly matter, though. I meant Samsung and HTC have to actually update the device in terms of providing the end package.

      • Matthew Fry

        Like Google feels any incentive to do anything for anyone they don't feel like doing.

  • silicondrifter82

    So, what's the point of getting these phones with the Nexus brand? It feels like I haven't had a real Nexus phone since the Nexus S.

    • Matthew Fry

      what's wrong with the nexus 4?

      • cy_n_ic

        Not a damn thing! :D

      • George Millhouse

        where do we begin with that one...lackluster camera....no 4g.....

    • CA719

      Maybe for someone that doesn't care about it getting the updates, they just hate Sense/Touchwiz.

  • wideopn11

    I can see Samsung never updating this phone or waiting til after they update the skinned versions (which takes forever) before giving any attention to the google edition. Not sure about HTC. Either way I'm waiting for the next real nexus. Hopefully a Motorola nexus.

  • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

    This is a make or break issue for me (in this case, break). The swiftness of updates and the easy availability of factory images is the primary case for Nexus devices in my particular user-land. I was considering getting the HTC One NE but now I don't see the point. Someone else mentioned it in another comment, but this basically removes the primary advantage of a Nexus device while also removing the advantages of having a stock HTC device (specialised hardware features). It's a lose-lose. :(

  • dhruva

    sob google..what the hell is your strategy? just piss off people..ever since nexus one you havent taken customer satisfaction seriously.

    • George Millhouse

      has nothing to do with Google this is all on the manufacturers of the phones

    • Aleksey_US

      They're doubling down on their crappy GReader move...

  • cy_n_ic

    So lets coin the term "un-nexus" or something more catchy for these kinds of devices. Noxus maybe? ;p

    • Ivan Myring

      HTC One Noxious Experience?

  • Stacey

    Alright, someone go grab the apk for that red phase beam live wallpaper.

    • Humberto Hernandez

      Let me give you a hint... market millitia

      • Stacey

        This is perfect. Thanks!

      • ianoopt

        Awesome. Thanks. Was looking for it :)

  • Nick Schiwy

    I think that the worst part about this is that the factory images won't be hosted by Google. Hopefully Samsung and HTC will take up the slack because it has always been very important to me as a Nexus user (and one that likes to root, flash, and mod) that those images were available if something were to go wrong or I wanted to go back to complete stock. Like for many others, this devalues them a lot for me.

  • Russell Walker

    We should start referring to un-skinned phones as "circumcised".

    • Cole

      Certainly you mean, "uncircumcised"?

      • ChavaM

        Google has less skin in the game.

  • Humberto Hernandez

    Ok, back to Nexus 4...

  • QwietStorm

    Can't wait for the Nexus 5.

  • Nexus311

    I wonder if the fact that HTC and Samsung will now have updates for these devices soon after a new version is out, will help them with updating their skinned versions of these devices in a timely fashion.

  • Lumi

    I guess I'll get a regular edition then

  • Duncan_J

    It certainly makes the devices less appealing in contrast to Nexus device.

    Come on 5", 1080p, 32 GB, LTE, decent low light camera and a Lightning fast processor Nexus 5

    • Simon Belmont

      I'm with you. I'm waiting for the next Nexus phone too.

      Hopefully with a Snapdragon 800. It will be a beast.

    • Carl Draper

      No removable battery or MicroSD card slot put me off the Nexus 4

      • androidymous

        Aren't those traits trademarked by another company?

        Uh-oh... iSmell an apple scented lawsuit!

        See Also: "This jellybean smells like apple!" (Assuming it's running on JB, and not iCS, of course...)

        *Takes cover, in anticipation of the crowd throwing tomatoes*

  • Kriss

    Too bad these phones are only sold in the US. Most americans won't pay the 599 dollars because of the subsidized model they follow.
    Google should release them in Europe where people are used to paying upfront.

  • Chris Stubbs

    I was looking forward to The HTC One and then I found out it didn't play nicely with T-Mobile. Now I have to wait on updates from HTC and Samsung? I might as well subsidize it at this point and throw a flash a ROM on it. I'm holding out on the next Google phone or Note III. Choice is good, but I can imagine this hurting GPE.

  • Bleakvision

    There is NO reason to believe it would be weeks instead of months. This has NEVER happened. For example there is a version of the GNex supported through Samsung that still hasn't got Android 4.2.2.

    Don't get your hopes high, better yet, don't be suckered in by empty promises by tech blogs, Samsung and HTC apperently haven't actually promised ANYTHING.

  • nexus

    But these phones is on the playstore. And it says "nexus experience"

  • Ryan Stewart

    I think its a pretty big damper. Google can say they will get them quickly but without any requirement they have no power over it.

    For those saying "they never said it was a Nexus." Well they called it a Google Edition and its sold by Google. It may not be a developer platform like the Nexus but the concept of it being a Google Edition would mean to me that Google controlled it.

    What they should have been marketed as is nothing more than a de-skinned unlocked phone, because that is all they are. They will still benefit the modding community since that means there will be de-skinned roms readily available to build from.

  • Lou

    Welp, the HTC ONE GE is Dead on Arrival if that is the case.

    Seriously, HTC in charge of Updates?

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/NFS13EPIC NFS13EPIC

    A google edition should at least get 3 updates :P and regular can get 2.

  • RedSpyder

    Since the possibility of these devices becoming AOSP is in the hands of Samsung and HTC I will not buy them.

  • Anthony

    This is why nexus is on top of all androids