Some of the fine print about the Google Pixel have started to trickle down to the public, and not all of them are encouraging. Despite controlling almost all aspects of the smartphone, Google is apparently not yet ready to take over completely. According to a report, Google has still given Verizon full control over feature updates for the Google Pixel smartphones purchased from the carrier, reserving only security updates under Google’s direct control. This practically means that, as far as updates and fragmentation go, Google is simply preserving the status quo.
System software updates on Android have always been a thorny subject. With a multi-level process that involves Google, OEMs, and carriers, updates don’t always get to users in time. The recent Stagefright security hole did change things for the better, but only as far as critical security updates are concerned. And even then, only Google has been religious about releasing monthly updates, which eventually get delayed at the OEM and carrier levels anyway.
This setup has always been compared with Apple’s system, where everything, from security fixes to major OS updates, is controlled by Apple itself. This has led to high and fast adoption rates of new iOS versions, usually within just weeks of the initial rollout. In contrast, Android 6.0 Marshmallow remains below 20% of the market, despite practically a year in its life.
The Google Pixel was hoped to stir things up a bit. After all, this time Google is the OEM, removing one middle man in the pipeline. And with only one carrier, it was also expected that Google itself would be pushing out updates when it wills. Apparently not so much, as far as the Verizon models go. The carrier will still handle all updates except security fixes, which will come directly from Google instead. That does mean that feature updates, including new Android versions, will be at the mercy of the carrier.
To be clear, Pixel smartphone bought from Google, perhaps including non-carrier retailers, will indeed get all updates directly from Google, without exception. Sadly, despite having the technical ability to do so for Verizon models as well, Google has chosen to stay on the safe side, and Verizon’s good graces yet again.