Over the past few weeks, a quiet discomfiting murmur has been gaining in strength to a full-out roar. The Nexus S, Google’s second “developer” device and once the company’s flagship product for OS updates, has been languishing in Gingerbread obscurity since Android 4.0 was announced in October. Soon after the Galaxy Nexus was released in December, the Nexus S was supposed to be updated to Ice Cream Sandwich and all was to be right in the world.
But Android 4.0 never came — at least not to the majority of users — and four months later people are rightfully getting upset. As HTC and Samsung, along with other manufacturers like Sony, LG and Motorola, are preparing to roll out ICS updates to their flagship models, Nexus S owners are starting to wonder why they invested in a product that promised them the latest Android software straight from the source: Google.
In December, we reported that the update to Android 4.0.3 was beginning to roll out over the air to Nexus S owners, but it turns out the build was only for the 9020T AWS variant, sold by WIND Mobile and Mobilicity. The vast majority of Nexus S owners around the world use the 9020A variety, which works on Rogers, TELUS, Bell and their HSPA+ subsidiaries. Nonetheless, the Android 4.0.3 rollout for the Nexus S was abandoned soon after users began complaining of battery issues.
As we near the impending release of Ice Cream Sandwich for the Galaxy S II and Sensation, among others, it bears asking the question: what happened? Why hasn’t the rollout continued, and more importantly, why has Google been so silent on this issue? OEMs complain that they only see new Android builds when we do, and work around the clock to adapt their custom skins to Google’s latest code. So why is Google having so much trouble bringing that same unfettered code to the Nexus S?
The Galaxy Nexus was recently updated to Android 4.0.2, and with it came a number of issues around NFC and
Android Market Google Play Store access. While the Play Store issues have been resolved, Google seems to have also stopped the OTA rollout for remaining customers in order to fix the NFC issues.
Suffice it to say Google is losing credibility by not only failing to issue updates in a timely manner, but ensuring that those updates are free from significant bugs. While we hope that this sad period in the Nexus program is temporary, we can’t help but wonder what happened within Google that has seen its number one priority devices being treated like virtual second class citizens.
Of course, there are options open to Nexus owners that (some) carrier-locked Androids don’t allow. You can always unlock the phone’s bootloader to load a custom ROM; the developer communities are very active on all three Nexus devices, and it would be disingenous to claim that one can’t very easily obtain Ice Cream Sandwich for the Nexus S. But if one has to void his or her warranty and potentially brick the device to do so, Google is not encouraging the average user to pick up a Nexus device. If that is their intention, they are even doing a good job of alienating their core base.
If you are interested in loading Android 4.0 onto your Nexus S, the folks at XDA-Developers can help you achieve that goal (but do this at your own risk).