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Is the Nexus Program Bad for Android? [Opinion]

Last week Motorola went on the record to blame Google’s Nexus program for the delay in software updates on its devices. A device manufacturer trying to explain why software updates are delayed is nothing new, but a device manufacturer that was recently purchased by the its software supplier blaming it’s new owner caught my eye. It’s possible that Motorola was trying to give the impression that things really won’t change much once the purchase is complete or that Motorola wants public pressure to support their devices getting preferential treatment from Google; we’ll never know for sure. Regardless, I think it raised some questions about Google’s Nexus strategy and whether or not it has been good for Android as a whole. 

Many of us are somewhat familiar with the development process for creating a ROM for a device. When a new version of Android is released, developers get to work porting the latest version over to different devices. One of the obstacles in making a bug-free, stable ROM is using hardware drivers to run well in the new version. Motorola claims that it’s software updates are delayed because the source code released for Android is built only for the Nexus hardware, so Android manufacturers have to develop new drivers for their hardware that work with the new operating system. The process is similar to when PC manufacturers release new drivers for a computer when a new version of Windows is released. The difference is, when Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, they work with manufacturers before the release to ensure that systems that ran the previous version will be upgradable. Google only partners with the manufacturer who won the Nexus bid to develop drivers, meaning the source code is designed explicitly for that device.

The question is, should Google be working with all of its hardware partners to ensure that when a new version of Android drops they all have device drivers? Motorola also listed carrier approval for new software and developing their custom software that runs on top of Android as obstacles in releasing new software, but the former is out of their control (though Apple seems to be able to get approval rather easily) and the latter is apparently essential to being competitive in the market. If Google worked with device manufacturers to ensure that updates were more easily rolled out it would help manufacturers keep their customers happy and help Google fight OS fragmentation and achieve their goal of getting everyone on the latest build of Android.

If Google began to work with it’s OEMs to get drivers on all devices prior to the latest release of Android, several things would have to change. First, manufacturers would probably have to either limit the number of devices they release in a year or only work with Google on a select number of devices. It would also require a massive amount of coordination between Google and the OEMs, but it’s not like Google has a shortage of cash. Perhaps Google could charge the OEMs to be a part of the Nexus program, which would enable them to have access to the source code along with the chosen Nexus partner. If they allowed other OEMs to access the source code early for a fee it would certainly deal with the fear that Google needs to start charging for their operating system to compete with Apple.

Some might argue that Google can’t give non-Nexus partners access to the source code earlier because it would defeat the purpose of the Nexus program. I think that line of reasoning is wrong for three reasons. First, very few vanilla Android devices are released every year. Android OEMs believe that the software experiences that they offer are superior to vanilla Android. If they thought otherwise then we wouldn’t have Sense, MotoBlur, or TouchWiz. Second, the Nexus device would still be the first device to receive OS and Google App updates due to the lack of an additional software layer. Third, Nexus devices have not sold well historically. They’ve always been about showcasing what Google thinks Android should look like and how it should work, not sales numbers.

If Google is serious about getting everyone on ICS I think this is the sort of thing they’ll have to pursue. I don’t know how else they would pursue that goal. If the company that Google just purchased is complaining about a lack of support from Google in developing device drivers for Android, then it’s a problem for all OEMs. This sort of approach would help Google deal with the lousy update schedule for most Android devices while avoiding pursuing Microsoft’s approach of restricting what hardware OEMs can use. I don’t think the Nexus program has been bad for Android, but I think it would do a lot more good if all OEMs were given access to the source code as Google partners with one manufacturer to make the Nexus device.

  • 1TallTXn

    Moto is notoriously slow about releasing updates. Yet other OEMs, even with their own skins, manage to release updates at a much faster pace.
    Seems like the problem lies with Moto.
    Yes, Google should work to have as many OEMs getting the latest version as quickly as possible, but Moto needs to get off their duff and get the updates done.
    Test on Nexus line for a short period. Fix errors, then release to the general Android population.

  • http://twitter.com/snakedoc SnakeDoc

    The Nexus program gives us all access to a pure Android OS. Not The molested and over weight versions the carriers and phone manufactures offer up. It really has nothing to do with device drivers or any such nonsense. Stop over thinking the issue people. The carriers and the phone manufactures want everything done for them. Do you think Microsoft has the manufactures interest at the top of there list when working on a new OS. Nope it’s an after thought. If they did there would never be a new version of Windows released so close together. Same goes for Android OS. If Google catered to all the carriers and manufactures there would rarely be any improvements in Android. Everyone would suffer including those who root.  If you decide to make a device and put Android OS on that device don’t call mommy and ask for help to go to the bathroom. Pull your pants down and get the job done. Google has already done the work of creating and OS, that is why the Nexus program is so successful.Stop putting all the blame on Google and focus it where it belongs. All of those to lazy to make there own drivers for their own devices. 

  • SecurityNick

    One issue though is that a lot of these hardware manufacturers are not exclusively using Android.  Why would Google want to give them an advantage if they aren’t willing to solely devote their smart phone OS use to Google?  I’m not saying that they should, there’s a market for others out there, but it wouldn’t make good business since for Google to devote resources to hardware manufacturers that aren’t willing to dedicate or give up on their end.  I think that the Nexus program is fine as is.  If the problems that Moto claimed are true, then really all Google needs to do is list minimum hardware specs and let the hardware manufacturers pick their components and write drivers.  It’s actually fairly new (with ICS) that Google hasn’t included drivers for other models besides the Nexus build.  This was one of the big changes they made..and why people like the CM team are having to work harder to make builds for various devices.  So having said that, I think the Moto claim isn’t true for how updates got held back in the past.  

  • jdrch

    No, it isn’t. Motorola’s locked bootloaders are bad for Android. 

  • Monty Waggoner

    I agree, especially if we could have a shared /home partition, or something similar to share apps and data between them.

  • Cisco

    When I had my OG droid n droid incredible, I hated waiting for the next best thing which was months after it was released. ROMs were the next best thing, but developers for both android and iOS aren’t as good as the ones working at google apple and thus ROMing is very hit or miss and unreliable

    Solution: go the apple way and have strict restrictions on hardware and software skins or even have there own developer kit to make skins instead of letting devs do subpar halfass solutions

    • JackA$$

      this comment makes me want to take your android phone away

      • http://twitter.com/snakedoc SnakeDoc

        im wit you JackA$$ WTF!! 

  • Rain_king46

    Nexus isnt bad for Android, Samsung is bad for android. My advice for Google would be hold off on Nexus until you own Moto and can really control the Nexus program. Moto make the best hardware anyway. 

  • http://wwjronline.com Wayne W.

    My question for this whole debate is if the nexus program is so bad for Android. How is it that when Moto RZR receives ICS they will be running 4.0.3 yet the GNex on Verizon is still running 4.0.2 with no word on when it will receive a stock update.

    I feel as though Google has abandoned the GNex on VZW.

    • http://wwjronline.com Wayne W.

      *Note, I’m well aware of how easy it is to root the GNex. Which I’m still considering doing but I was hoping we’d be receiving a bit more support even after the recent news about TORO builds.

      I’m just semi-lazy and don’t want to have to Wipe and Re-Flash my phone every time an update comes out by the community (who is 1 billion times faster than any OEM dev).

      I install a decent amount of apps, files, and etc. that I don’t feel like having to re-install EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I update my phone.

  • Jeff

    Motorola: We are never going to compete with other smart phones.
    Google: Hey why don’t you make a phone with our software so we can knock Steve Jobs down a peg, get into the phone market and you can regain popularity in the market again.Motorola: That’s great! Thanks for saving our failing business. Oh, by the way, now that you’ve made our company relevant again, can you start doing our work for us? Because if you don’t we will blame your open source software and Nexus program for the cause of us not being able to provide customers updates to their phones. K thanks, bye!WHAT A JOKE!