Update: Looks like we were right.
ROM developers and Android tinkering enthusiasts alike have probably noticed at this point that the new iteration of the Nexus 7, unveiled two weeks ago, does not yet have factory images or driver binaries posted on the appropriate Google Developers page. A similar issue plagued the Nexus 4 in its early days, though eventually images were posted. At the time, legal issues were speculated as a possible reason for the delay, and Android build maintainer JBQ - largely responsible for the images / binaries - said only this in response: "I can't comment."
With the new Nexus 7, JBQ has not outright said that legal problems with Qualcomm are preventing the factory images (and possibly the driver binaries) from being published, but a quick look at the relevant evidence makes it pretty duh-obvious that's what's going on. A week after the new Nexus 7's announcement, JBQ tweeted the following:
That feeling when lawyers sabotage the launch you spent 6 months working on? I haz it. Sad sad sad sad sad sad.
— Jean-Baptiste Queru (@jbqueru) July 31, 2013
A few days later, on August 4th:
I don't want to go to work tomorrow. I don't want to be doing that job any more.
— Jean-Baptiste Queru (@jbqueru) August 5, 2013
Those tweets alone aren't enough to be definitively linked to the Nexus 7's image situation, but JBQ's comments on the Android building group regarding the situation pretty much seal the deal. When asked why the new Nexus 7 images were not available, JBQ replied as follows (consolidated for simplicity):
When will flo get factory images?
JBQ: No ETA, and I don't know if they'll ever be available at all.
What is the reason for this?
JBQ: You'll also note that Google never distributed factory images for Nexus One.
Just to clarify: we're talking both factory images and proprietary binaries here, right?
JBQ: Lemme try to figure out how much more I'm allowed to say on that matter.
It's that second-to-last comment which points the [middle] finger at Qualcomm. And it's pretty easy to figure out why, looking at the chipset supplier for each Nexus device.
- Nexus One: Qualcomm
- Nexus S: Samsung
- Galaxy Nexus: TI
- XOOM: Tegra
- Nexus 7: Tegra
- Nexus 4: Qualcomm
- Nexus 10: Samsung
- Nexus Q: TI
- Nexus 7 (2013): Qualcomm
All three Qualcomm-powered Nexus devices have had issues related to publishing factory images and binaries. (Note: HTC did publish factory images for the Nexus One, but Google did not.)
What's the legal issue? Who knows. Qualcomm is notoriously protective of its technology, having gone so far as to form a separate company devoted to R&D and the guarding of its intellectual property. It really could be anything. Maybe, eventually, things will work out like they did on the Nexus 4 and the images / binaries will be published, but JBQ isn't exactly sounding optimistic. We'll update this piece as we learn more.