AT&T Blames Google For Slow Android Updates – Google Fires Back With Android’s Openness


Slow Android updates have long been a concern for Android fanboys looking to receive the latest offerings from Google HQ. When it comes to pointing the finger, we know that both OEM’s and carriers share the responsibility of devices receiving timely firmware updates, with the carriers ultimately having the final say on whether or not update will be pushed to those devices.

Apparently, someone forgot to send the memo to AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson on exactly how the update process works. Speaking at Milken Institute event, Mr. Stephenson was asked why some phones are slow on receiving the latest version of Android. His response? It’s Google’s fault.

“Google determines what platform gets the newest releases and when. A lot of times, that’s a negotiated arrangement and that’s something we work at hard. We know that’s important to our customers. That’s kind of an ambiguous answer because I can’t give you a direct answer in this setting.”

Puzzling. We’ve always been led to believe that Google develops the software, open-sources it and makes it available to anyone who wants to put it on their phone, tablet, watch, refrigerator, etc.. But we’re willing to give AT&T’s CEO the benefit of the doubt. It’s entirely possible he could have been referring to Google’s Nexus devices, of which Google does negotiate with carriers, manufacturers, and chipset makers in partnering up together to release the flagship. Either way, news got back to Google and spokesperson at Mountain View had this to say:

Mr. Stephenson’s carefully worded quote caught our attention and frankly we don’t understand what he is referring to. Google does not have any agreements in place that require a negotiation before a handset launches. Google has always made the latest release of Android available as open source at as soon as the first device based on it has launched. This way, we know the software runs error-free on hardware that has been accepted and approved by manufacturers, operators and regulatory agencies such as the FCC. We then release it to the world.

Stephenson’s blurb has been making the rounds across the usual media outlets, calling into question the true “openness” of Google’s mobile OS. But fear not, like most things, it seems to be nothing more than a misunderstanding on AT&T’s part, who, I’m sure will issue an updated statement in the coming days.

[9to5Google | Via TechLand]

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. I hope 5.0 goes a long way in, somehow, defragmenting Android. Not only is it annoying but it’s responsible for a lot of problems Android has.

    But, of course, Android’s openess needs to be maintained. It’s a fine line to walk.

    1. 5.0 is just a number. Google can only provide the software. The phone devs and the network need to work together in updating each phone. It’s really a mess.

      BTW, ATT CEO looks and acts like a douche. He’s really just bad-mouthing Android in the face of the next cash cow, iphone 5. sellout.

      1. I was talking about Google working to defragment Android in it’s 5.0 update. Again, I’m unsure as to how exactly they would go about that but it would be nice. ICS was a huge upgrade in terms of everything, it would be nice to have an update or two focusing on stability, continuity, and speed.

      2. If only OEMs made their skins like pre-loaded apps which an be removed and redownloaded….
        Then updating the firmware would be easier (still not eas easy as for a nexus device, but a lot easier!!!)

    2. Agreed. I mean, we can all just get nexuses, but that limits our hardware choice, which is one of the great things about Android. I don’t want to have to choose between hardware and the latest version of Android–I want both!

    3. The only way to seriously defragment Android would be to release new versions much more slowly or making it so every new version is backwards compatible with hardware going back a certain amount of time and include all the updated drivers.

      1. Finally, someone said it. Unfortunately, 90% of the population are incapable of listening and/or comprehending the statement. If you’ve managed to read his comment and then my own comment, you’re probably in the 10%, hooray!

        I personally love the option of fast innovation and fragmentation compared to slower innovation and less choice.

      2. There was a year between Gingerbread and ICS which is long enough in between IMO and my GS2 is still 5 months behind on the update.

  2. I’m wondering if he meant “manufacturers,” not Google. Like, manufacturers prioritize certain devices above others and the carriers just approve them? Or he just has no idea what he’s talking about.

    1. I have a Nexus S still running Gingerbread waiting for ICS. I also have a Galaxy Nexus that still haven’t got ICS 4.04. Both unlocked european. Bought both because i thought google devices got updates first. Am leaving the Nexus line now with SG3 and whatever follows :-)
      (Will donate the GNex to my 70 year old mother (who likes it and it’s her first smartphone) and the S to a friend with low budget)

      1. *GSM unlocked nexuses I guess

        1. Yup :-)

      2. You don’t seems to know, that we in Europe doesn’t get our update directly from google, but from samsung, which leads to these delay, because of that there aren’t much reason to buy nexus in Europe, when you still have to root it for newest version :(

        1. wait. you mean you cant get updates on the nexus straight from google if youre in europe? that sucks. you need to figure out how to root and unlock then flash a rom of the latest updates when they’re out my friend. and spread the word. this way you can get these untainted updates as soon as theyre ready

          1. I know how to root and throw a custom rom on, but I thought I didn’t have to do that with a nexus device.

        2. Disappointing. Too bad i didn’t know that but thanks for the “update” :-)

      3. i have a rooted unlocked galaxy nexus GSM and it keeps prompting me to restart my phone to upgrade to version 4.0.4 and when it does restart it shows a little android robot laying down with a triangle and exclamation point inside the triangle above the android.

        do u know why this could be?

      4. My kids mother has a Nexus S thats been on ICS for a few weeks now, probably a month. In the US on Sprint.

        I thought it would be different for overseas phones, thought it would be available to overseas phones first or at the same time.

    2. He has no idea what he is talking about, just like most CEO’s.

  3. Steve Jobs had issues with CEO Randall Stephenson as well. The guys a jerk.
    “And when I say that “we” have a hit on our hands, I’m really giving you way too much credit, because let’s be honest, the success of iPhone has nothing to do with you. In fact, iPhone is a smash hit in spite of your network, not because of it.” & ”
    You know what it’s like being your business partner? It’s like trying to swim the English Channel with a boat anchor tied to my legs. And yes, in case you’re not following me, in that analogy, you, my friend, are the f-badword boat anchor.”

    1. It appears that these quotes are fake.

  4. “This way, we know the software runs error-free on hardware that has
    been accepted and approved by manufacturers, operators and regulatory
    agencies such as the FCC. We then release it to the world.”

    I’m guessing that this statement refers to the error free galaxy nexus?

  5. AT&T would love to not have the heat for their own restrictions, such as refusing to allow the HTC one to be rooted, or that darn illegal merger, or stating that it’s a lack of competition that lowers prices – This is just a strawman.

  6. Why dont yall get a statement from verizon on why their version of the nexus is the only version currently on 4.0.2? If i had known they would still control ( delay ) my updates i wouldnt have bought this phone. I love the nexus but this isnt a nexus its a samsung galaxy 2 on Verizon.

    1. 100%% agree

    2. Sorry, blood, this isn’t personal, but you’re the latest Nexus owner to say this, and I’m sick of hearing it. You’re on ICS, a version ahead of 95% or Android owners (rooted with a custom ROM or not), so I really don’t have a lot of pity for y’all, especially with all of Verizon’s GNex owners complaining about it every day that 4.0.4 isn’t available.

      I get the whole idea of Nexus is supposed to bring out updates on day one, and I’m sorry that this hasn’t happened with Verizon’s Nexus, but I’m tired of every Galaxy Nexus owner whining about it on every Ice Cream Sandwich news story that’s posted every. Single. Day.

      1. But it needs the update. As is the phone is not fun to use. Bad signal, lag, etc. Why have an ICS phone if it doesn’t work right?

      2. But what are these people supposed to do – suck it up and move on? Many people opted for the G’Nex instead of comparable, perhaps even superior, hardware specifically because of the pure Google experience. And it isn’t just Verizon’s phone – GSM variants that don’t sport the YAKJU or TAKJU builds will need to flash their ROM, voiding what warranty they may have had, to get in on the Google updates. What’s running on 95% of the phones out there is immaterial – these people IMO are justifiably upset about being misled. I’m sorry that you or anyone else are upset about the complaining, but the issue must be raised, if for nothing else other than to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

        1. No its a nexus so either download the source code and compile it and flash it yourself. Go to a forum like xda or rootzwiki an get it there or complain directly to google/samsung/verizon. moaning on this website won’t make a difference. P.S. gsm gnex all the way (mine)

          1. I flashed mine from yakjuxw to takju :) But plenty of people are new to this Google experience thing and the “this may brick your phone” warnings will scare them away. We’re tech heads and don’t mind getting under the hood, but it should be a matter of choice, not a necessity to get something people were sold on.

          2. Ive always found it extremely interesting how people always say the people that root and mod their phones are in the minority. It’s the casual users that manufactures and carriers care about and listen to, yet when someone has a legitamate complaint they are told to “wha whaa whaa, quit crying n go root/unlock/mod your phone…”….. o_O?

          3. No my point is that moaning here isn’t going to solve anything. If it bothers him that much he has it in his power to fix it, but wants to wait for verizon. Fair enough people may not wanna go down the root route ;) but if they aren’t happy they should complain to the right people.

    3. “Nexus” does not imply “upgrade entitlement.”

      1. Yes it does, actually, with emphasis on the word “imply”. The pure Google experience, which these phones offer, should make timely upgrades much easier to accomplish without being hindered by carrier bloatware. I can find no express guarantees regarding upgrades, but the previous two ‘pure’ Nexus phones have indeed seen a number of relatively quick upgrades. Based Google’s past action, I think it’s reasonable for people to have certain expectations of upgrades for the Galaxy Nexus.

        1. They are also open source and unlocked like all gsm Nexi are. CDMA is closed as it can get so it has to be approved by verizon/sprint

          1. right and thats why cdma needs to go away or rethink its place in the world. cdma needs to get it right or GTFO

      2. the [*] it doesnt!

        if there are issuses with this i suspect it is not google’s fault.

        this is not me trying to play the blame game it is just that google’s goal IS TO GET THESE UPDATES OUT QUICKLY. it’s in their [*] dna.

        and i just want to say if anyone is calling bullshit on this post already you dont know enough to be commenting on such articles.

        1 of the purposes of “the cloud” is to be able to roll updates out to all users without the user having to upgrade – when they log in it’s already done – for everyone.

        that being said GOOGLE MADE THE [*] NEXUS BRAND WITH RAPID RELEASE CYCLES IN MIND. they WANT users to have these updates ASAP. have you heard of chrome? it’s a browser google made and is set on these rapid release cycles.

        watch a few video on youtube of eric schmidt talking about mobile tech in poor countries, he talks about how these devices are life changing for them and that even though the wireless carriers in those countries cant just spring up a 4g nationwide network, due to costs, google can do their part to release software updates rapidly to get these new beneficial feature out to them ASAP. and guess what? they do a lot of their updates in the cloud so they bypass gayness like AT&T and verizon. magic dudes, magic

    4. 1.) The galaxy S II has TouchWiz. your device does not. It is up to you as to whether that is a good or bad thing.

      2.) Why is your Nexus still on 4.0.2? …you’re doing it wrong.

      No offense, of course. ;-)

    5. you should do a search for gsm vs cdma. google said something a while ago about dropping some sort of support for cdma.

      ok, here’s the main distinction between gsm and cdma – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR ALL CONSUMERS WHO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TECHNOLOGIES. gsm has a SIM card which you can take out and put in an unlocked phone and it just works (ive never had a problem). cdma allows the carrier to lock you in, if you dont pay your bill youre out that phone. it will never work again (ive heard there’re ways around this but i have never seen it done, plus it’s more workaround which mucks things up).

      i’d recommend, if you can at all, avoid cdma carriers. go gsm. but also try to avoid at&t because of their ways. i dont know that tmobile is actually an inferior network (aside from less coverage nationally) where they have coverage because they’re not in my area. but any money you give tmobile is money that’s going to the competition – and in theory that can only make things better.

  7. CyanogenMod, AOKP, CodenameAndroid and so on are all getting updates out to devices faster than AT&T. My phone’s running ICS while AT&T just released its Gingerbread upgrade. Get some balls and admit it’s the bloatware.

    1. Why would the bloatware be an issue? All of the bloat is just apk files isn’t it? Apps? Once they run on one ICS phone they can run on all of them. At most it requires support for multiple screen resolutions, but most all apps are designed to support virtually every resolution on android phones. I don’t see the bloatware being an issue.

      The real issue is likely the skins designed by the OEM to put on the phone. Those customizations take time. Though in reality it’s mostly just poor developer teams for each phone, or one team for all phones by one manufacturer. There just aren’t enough developers working on it seriously. All of the major manufacturers should be aware of this and fix the problem. If a team of independent people can beat you to a release, then you either need more developers, or more skilled ones, or something extra. It isn’t just about the carriers blocking updates.

      1. Skins from phone manufacturers are one of the reasons, but AT&T (and other carriers) adds another layer on top of that. Carrier branded phones get updates long after (if ever) their non-carrier branded counterparts due to all the “value-added features” and “vigorous quality testing.”

        BTW, I think he is either way out of touch with reality or he deliberately lied about the issue (or both).

  8. …Some how I believe this dick hole :-/

    1. Since they can’t even update their own devices it makes sense if others have a hard time :-)

  9. If anyone believes this guy then I have some waterfront property to sell you in Kansas. Why doesn’t some journalist call him out on it??? AT&T is the only Carrier with a lock down bootloader on the new HTC OneX. AT&T raised all their prices right after the T-Mobile buyout fell thru. Don’t believe a damn thing he says.

    1. You meant oceanfront, not waterfront.

  10. Haha, I bet he’d also say “Google requires us to charge extra to use the wireless tethering feature.”

  11. If your willing to pay for AT&T’s ridiculous data fees and think they are justified in their pricing, then you’ll probably buy into their excuse of why their Android phones get slow updates. That guy is full of shit.

  12. “I can’t give you a direct answer in this setting.”

    Read as: “Do you really think I’m dumb enough to give you the real answer in public?”

  13. Great another dumb ass AT&T CEO blames GOOGLE. You don’t blame google dumb fck you have to blame the manufacturer for the updates. Someone needs to fire this greedy CEO ass. Sick and tired of all their comments and business.

  14. Look i bought this phone with the assumption that my updates were controlled and distributed by google. Now after i added a line to get this phone i find out that verizon is holding back my update. WTF! Its like this. I have been with verizon for at least a decade and my service has never been suspended. This means that the ridiculous price verizon ask for these monthly bills has been paid to them in a timely manner. Is it too much to ask that i get my updates in a timely manner? If im wrong please explain y!

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