December's monthly security patches are here for Google's Pixel phones — or, at least, most of them. While the 2016 Pixels are getting what Google previously claimed would be their very last update after the two phones missed November's patches, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL are curiously late to the party, with no images posted just yet. Most confusingly, though, Google is apparently breaking out its Pixel-specific functional patch notes this month, which often describe useful or noteworthy feature changes and tweaks.

Both OTA images and full factory images have been posted for the Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel 2, and 2016 Pixel XL and Pixel, though build numbers vary. Interestingly, the build numbers for the 2016 Pixels would seem to correspond to the dates of an October release, not December.

As noted, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL are conspicuously absent. That doesn't mean they won't get a December security patch, Google has been late to deliver monthly patches for specific devices before. But if downloads haven't been posted, we probably won't see any December OTA rolling out for the devices via the more traditional means anytime soon. This is also on the heels of many folks with a Pixel 4 or 4 XL failing to pull down the November update at all.

Google has also confusingly stripped out its functional patches from this month's Pixel Security Bulletin. Those patch descriptions are often one of the most useful parts of Google's monthly announcements since they can describe bug fixes and feature improvements for Google's devices. Instead, Google is pointing interested parties to its Pixel Community forum, where no post corresponding to the December 2019 patches yet appears. We have also confirmed (on a Pixel 3 XL with Lawnchair Launcher 2) that this update also rolls out support for gesture navigation to third-party launchers, though the 2016 Pixels don't appear to get this feature.

Several high and critical severity security patches have also been included in this month's updates, including some DoS mitigation and arbitrary code execution fixes, plus some Pixel-specific hardware security fixes. As always, it's in your best interests to update to maintain security.

If and when Google rolls out its functional patch notes via this new avenue or if Pixel 4 and 4 XL images start to land, we'll be sure to let you know.

Live Captions, Styles & Wallpaper, and more rolling out to older Pixels

Official functional patch notes have yet to be published by Google, but a handful of features have been spotted.

In addition to the gesture navigation support we spotted for third-party launchers, we can confirm that Live Captions are present for the Pixel 3 as of the December update, and anecdotal reports claim it's also present for the Pixel 3a series. The "Styles & Wallpaper" Pixel Themes feature that was previously exclusive to the Pixel 4 has also trickled down to older phones. We can confirm it's present on the Pixel 3XL, and other reports claim the 3a and 2 series have also snagged it. The Swipe-down gesture for notifications present on the Pixel 4 is also now on the older phones, excluding the 2016 Pixels.

Live Caption and Styles & Wallpaper options on a Pixel 3 XL.

Based on reports and our own testing, here's a quick list that might make it a little more clear which phones got what:

  • Live Captions
    • Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL
  • Gesture navigation in third-party launchers
    • Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL
  • "Styles & Wallpaper" Pixel themes
    • Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL
  • Swipe-down gesture for notifications in Pixel Launcher
    • Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL

Note that the 2016 Pixels, though ostensibly updated to the December patches, didn't get any of these features. Furthermore, we can confirm they're still reporting an October level of patches in system, though Google's downloads page claims they're for December.

If we spot any more features, or if Google finally publishes its functional patch changelog, we'll be sure to let you know.

Pixel 4 updated next week, Pixel Wallet feature name-dropped

Functional patches have finally been posted, along with a disclaimer regarding the Pixel 4 and 4 XL's delay. Although the company did not explain the reason, we're told the pair of phones will start getting it next week.

Functional patches seem to primarily focus on the Pixel 4 XL, including a fix for the lack of dark theme support on the Pixel 4 XL's bootloader, a fix for third-party camera apps that we hope resolves the "clicking" issue, Bluetooth fixes, and a fix for "display flicker in various use cases," which I hope means the maddening brightness changes when touching the display in low-light circumstances.

By far the most curious improvement, however, is this "Fix for Pixel Wallet display in power menu." This sounds like the "Cards & Passes" power button menu functionality which was previously spotted in Android 10, but never went live, and was never associated with that name. Digging around a Pixel 3 XL running the December release, it still doesn't appear to be present just yet.

Perhaps we'll know more about this "Pixel Wallet" feature soon.

  • Thanks:
  • Bradley