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.

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    • I’m afraid not. The carriers might be somewhat complacent, but the decision to end developer support is entirely Google’s. They’re standing up for Android’s open source values, but definitely leaving a lot of customers in the dust in the process.  

      • They are _not_ dropping support for the phone. I wonder where do these rumors come from… Let me repeat: they are _not_ dropping support for the phone.

        What they did, and that’s the _only_ thing they did, was to update the documentation in order to reflect the shortcomings of CDMA technology. That’s why they “dropped” the Verizon GNex and the NS 4G from the list.

        It happens that CDMA phones are tied to specific networks, and in order to function they need special, signed APKs (with proprietary keys) that are embedded into the system prior to releasing the phone (or the updates) to the general public. Google has access to those APKs, but for licensing issues they can’t distribute to the general public in the same shape (distribute the original key so devs can sign and integrate themselves).

        That said, they will continue to support the phones like they kept doing. However, since the Nexus phones are heavily used in mods, they are changing the documentation in order to better reflect that reality.

        It happens that this has always happened. It’s nothing new. But now Google is bringing that to the knowledge of the general public so they are _aware_ of the potential limitations of CDMA devices when creating custom ROMs.

        In short: the support will be the same. The modding community will be the same as it was. But now when you read the documentation you’ll know what extra steps are needed when modding a CDMA device.

        Just that. Sheesh… do you guys really think that they are going to release a device and then drop support for it in the next month? Of course not… it would send thunders across the Android community.

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  1. people stop b****ing about it and read the article. it would be like having a droid you wuld have to wait until verizon decides to update it. or join a much supperior GSM technology that;s it

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