Trouble in Android paradise between Google and Qualcomm?

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The lead Googler responsible for maintaining Android factory image software is stepping away from that responsibility. Although he has shared cryptic reasons publicly, Jean-Baptiste Quéru’s comments point to an apparent legal issue with Qualcomm, one of the main chip suppliers for Android phones. In the past, factory images were pulled for Qualcomm-powered Nexus devices as well.

On Wednsday, Quéru posted this on his Google+ page:

“Well, I see that people have figured out why I’m quitting AOSP.

There’s no point being the maintainer of an Operating System that can’t boot to the home screen on its flagship device for lack of GPU support, especially when I’m getting the blame for something that I don’t have authority to fix myself and that I had anticipated and escalated more than 6 months ahead.”

AOSP is Google’s Android Open Source Project code that anyone can use free of charge. To use Google’s services with that software, however, a license through Google is required. That applies to Gmail, the Google Play store, Google Maps and other Google-specific software.

When Quéru speaks about a flagship device, he’s surely talking about a Nexus product. Other than the Nexus 10, which uses a Samsung chip, the Nexus 4 phone and new Nexus 7 tablet both use a Qualcomm chip complete with Qualcomm’s Adreno GPU and supporting graphics drivers. It’s very likely then that Quéru is talking about a newer Android build for one of these devices. Based on this July 30 tweet from Quéru, it’s likely the new tablet.

That may sound like circumstantial evidence, but there’s some history to back it up. Earlier on Wednesday, Android Police pointed out that the factory images for the new Nexus 7 tablet aren’t yet available online. These images are used to restore Nexus devices to a “like new” state; very helpful to developers and enthusiasts who are dabbling with the software on these phones and tablets. Google has long housed the software publicly on this Android developers page.

Nexus 7 in handAdditionally, other Qualcomm-powered devices have been slow to see their factory image software available online in the past. Droid Live noted in December that the Nexus 4 images were pulled down for a time and later restored. The site asked Quéru about the situation and his reply was, “I can’t comment on that, sorry.” even though a Nexus 4 owner needed the files for device recovery.

Clearly, something is amiss here in Android-land. Sadly, at the end of the day, it’s not just about a legal squabble; it’s about device owners that could have a non-working phone or tablet while they sit on the sidelines waiting for such issues get resolved.

I’ll be reaching out directly to Quéru and Qualcomm for comment and will update this post with any additional information and responses.

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