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Why Aussie Galaxy Nexus Won't Get Android Updates Direct From Google

One of the best things about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is that it comes with a vanilla OS: no crapware and no bloated UI skin. But that doesn’t mean that you also get updates directly from Google. If you bought your Galaxy Nexus from Telstra, Optus or Vodafone, you’re not running the latest version of Ice Cream Sandwich, and you probably never will.

It’s a common misconception that Google-branded phones, like the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S, receive firmware updates directly from Google, similar to the way Apple releases iOS updates directly to users without the carrier middleman. On Samsung Australia’s Galaxy Nexus web page, it states that “GALAXY Nexus users enjoy quick access to the latest updates and services directly from Google” (our emphasis). This is clearly not the case. The truth is that there are several hurdles in between Google releasing an update and you getting that update on your phone, which means that you are getting firmware updates months after everyone else.

For instance, the latest version of Ice Cream Sandwich available is 4.0.3. It was released on December 16, 2011. Galaxy Nexus devices sold through Telstra, Optus and Vodafone do not run the stock ROM (known as yakju) and are still on 4.0.1, which means those customers are still waiting for bug fixes, UI optimisations, improvements to battery life, graphics, databases, network connections, spell-checking and Bluetooth functionality, as well as a bunch of new APIs for developers.

Being a couple of point releases behind is not the end of the world. Still, it’s not wrong to expect that your phone will receive firmware updates promptly and ask why there is such a delay when that doesn’t happen. Samsung Australia said in a statement to us that it works jointly with Google to release software updates, and those updates are first tested by Samsung and the carrier before being rolled out to users.

As an example, here’s how the process should work in the case of the Galaxy Nexus:

1. Google releases ICS update
2. Samsung checks to make sure the update works with its hardware
3. Samsung releases the update to carriers
4. Carriers check to make sure the update works with their respective network infrastructures
5. Carriers release update to customers

The same essential steps apply for any Android phone sold through a carrier.

Each step of a process like that is obviously going to take some time. While we wish everyone involved would hurry it up a bit, we can appreciate the importance of completing checks thoroughly. Certainly, avoiding issues like the one Telstra iPhone 4S customers experienced is a priority. As one Telstra representative said at the HTC Velocity launch, “If someone can’t make an emergency call because we didn’t test it thoroughly, Telstra will get the blame.”

So when can you expect to see your Telstra/Optus/Vodafone Galaxy Nexus updated to the latest version of Ice Cream Sandwich? We asked the carriers, and the answer depends on who your contract is with.

Telstra:

We expect to receive the 4.0.3 update from Samsung next month. We then hope to test and approve it within a couple of weeks ahead of Samsung making it available to customers.

Optus:

The Nexus devices on Optus are currently using v4.01 and we have approved the rollout of v4.02 to our customers over the next few weeks. We don’t currently have any confirmed details or timings around v4.03.

Vodafone:

The Galaxy Nexus shipped with Android Version 4.0.1. This is the current version for our customers. We are unable to provide any information on timings for the next launch.

If you really hate being on your carrier’s clock for those firmware updates, you can change your carrier-specific firmware build to the stock yakju Google build without having to root your phone. We don’t recommend it for the reasons mentioned above, and if you do it’s entirely at your own risk. The process is outlined over at the XDA Developer forums.

[h/t Greg, @felixthinks, @samsonation]

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