Disturbing news from the official Android developer website: it appears that nearly all reference to CDMA phones and tablets has disappeared from the official documentation. This includes Android source code and factory ROMs for Verizon’s CDMA version of the Galaxy Nexus and Motorola XOOM, as well as the Nexus S 4G. What this implies (and only implies) is that Google is no longer providing official updates for the removed devices, as is generally expected of “developer” hardware. The GSM Nexus S and WiFi-only Motorola XOOM are still present, as are the two initial images for the Galaxy Nexus CDMA/LTE, though these are marked as “archived, for reference only”.
After a fast and frenzied response from angry Nexus owners, Google clarified its position on the Android Contributors Google Groups page. Basically, the company has decided to remove CDMA devices from its official support documentation because the technology and software required to make them function correctly is closed-source. The radios and other APK files for a CDMA device must be digitally signed by a carrier, something that can’t be open-sourced, and therefore isn’t included in the Android Open Source Project. It boils down to this: Google can’t control every aspect of the software, and based on the principles of “Nexus” and developer devices, CDMA devices don’t really qualify.
Here’s the official statement in its entirety:
Hello! This is a quick clarification about support for CDMA devices.For various technical reasons, recent CDMA Android devices implement core telephony functionality in .apk files provided in binary form by the carriers. To function correctly, these .apk files must be signed by the so-called “platform” key. However, when an individual creates a custom build from the AOSP source code, they don’t use the same signing key as these CDMA flies were signed with.The result is that these files don’t work properly, and pure AOSP builds running on these devices can’t place calls, access mobile data, and so on. Because we aim to make sure that we are as clear as possible about the degree of support that devices have, we updated the docs over at source.android.com to reflect this reality.We will still make available as many as possible of the closed-source binaries for these devices, and Nexus devices will continue to have unlockable bootloaders. And, of course, GSM/HSPA+ devices are still supported, as are any other devices we’re able to support. We’ve simply updated the documentation to be clearer about the current extent of CDMA support.We are of course always working to improve support, and we’ll keep everyone updated as we make improvements. Thanks as always for your interest in AOSP!
Google will still support the Galaxy Nexus LTE, Nexus S 4G and XOOM CDMA, at least as long as the hardware is compatible with updated versions of Android. But it won’t be with the same direct support that GSM developer devices enjoy. This probably means that updates to the Galaxy Nexus will come through Verizon… just like all the other Android phones out there. Presumably that gives Verizon or any other CDMA carrier the option to either delay or ignore the update. This isn’t an agreeable position for many Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus and XOOM owners, as it sullies the “pure Google experience” that’s expected (if not explicitly promised) from a developer device.
The timing is suspect. The removal of CDMA devices comes just a day after AT&T’s reinstatement of Google Wallet on the Android Market. Since Verizon customers can only access Google Wallet via a work-around, whatever tense relationship between the developers and the carrier seems to have been kept to the status quo. This could have been the last straw for Google, or it might be completely unrelated. Neither party seems willing to speak on the subject.
The Verge contacted Google on the subject and got this response:
Every day, Android developers openly distribute applications via Android Market. Google is also a developer within this ecosystem and we want to offer the apps we develop such as Google Wallet, so people have access to the full range of functionality offered by the platform.
It’s important to note that the three devices in question still have unlockable bootloaders, and that isn’t likely to change. Ever. The Galaxy Nexus LTE, Nexus S 4G and XOOM CDMA are still valid as developer devices, in the sense that you can download Android code, compile it and run it on them without any barriers. Custom ROMs and other mods will not be affected. Even so, the sudden drop in priority support is certain to ruffle the feathers of serious Android enthusiasts, many of whom bought these phones and tablets based on that support alone. We’ll keep you updated on this story as it progresses.