Google’s Nexus Program That Wasn’t


As I pointed out over 5 months ago, there is tremendous pressure on Android blogs to publish semi-credible rumors before everyone else, which comes with the risk of being completely duped. This is especially true when Android enthusiasts are thirsty for rumors about the next Nexus, which we should be hearing more about at this time of the year. This is what apparently happened to Android and Me, as well as every Android site that repeated these rumors (including us – here, here, and to a lesser extent here). A user who calls himself “Hoaxer” (original, right?) and also assumed a cover identity named “Peter,” posted last night (in the comments section of an Android Police story) that many of the rumors about huge changes to Google’s Nexus program were planted by him.

Here’s a quick summary of the false rumors that he says he leaked to Android and Me (he also called it a wishlist):

  • There is no formal Google Nexus program per se, although we might still see multiple Nexus handsets this year.
    • What made it seem credible: Google had already been rumored to release multiple Nexus devices this year, and with the confirmed rumor of a Nexus device from LG and reports of a Motorola “Occam” showing up in the server logs of other Android blogs and in the AnTuTu benchmark, it seemed logical that Google would simply release a set of requirements for entry into its “Nexus program.”
  • There is no “customization center” where you can choose to stay with stock Android or install an OEM skin, such as TouchWiz. This also means no centralized place in stock Android to change icon packs, Instagram-like post filters, or ringtones.
    • What made it seem credible: I think most of the Android news sites either took this one with a grain of salt or based their assessment of its validity on that of Android and Me, because this rumor was really out there in hindsight. I myself simply included it with the rumor of Android’s next version being 4.2, which has been corroborated by other sites independently of Android and Me’s story. I should have separated that particular “feature” of Android 4.2 and weighed it separately in my Rumor Report Card.
  • There is no allotment of secure, dedicated RAM (64 MB was the rumor) for streaming content from the Play Store.
    • What made it seem credible: Google has had some difficulty adding content from major labels and studios, due in part to DRM security concerns with Android. Whether Android is actually more or less secure than iOS or Windows Phone 7-8 is beside the point. What matters is that the perception that an open-source mobile operating system must be inherently more vulnerable to DRM hacking than a closed-source one.
  • There will be no Nexus-specific games in the Play Store.
    • What made it seem credible: I personally didn’t bite on this one, partly because I have little interest in games not named Angry Birds. Also, my colleagues Ed Waters and Marty Eich didn’t mention this rumor. I had only seen this rumor mentioned in passing on Android and Me’s site (that article has since been retracted), so it seems that this rumor was simply grouped together with the one about the 64 MB of dedicated, secure RAM.
  • There will be no “Project Roadrunner” aimed at optimizing battery life.
    • What made it seem credible: battery life has long been the bane of smartphones in general, but especially of certain LTE-enabled Android phones such as the Thunderbolt and the Galaxy Nexus. It seemed to make sense that Google, after having focused on performance via “Project Butter” for Android 4.1, would shift its focus to battery life for Android 4.2.

As a general principle, most of us Android enthusiasts are hungry for any scrap of information about new phones and tablets. Consequently, Android news sites are prone to either pounce on semi-reliable rumors that seem to harmonize with established facts or corporate strategies in order to be the first with the “scoop,” or are prone to parroting the rumors leaked by those who took the bait, especially if there are few ways to verify the source of the rumors. Nobody wants to be left behind the curve in the never-ending cycle of Android rumors, especially those that concern Nexus devices.

This is what “Hoaxer” had to say on Android Police’s site. This is long and very detailed, but is requisite reading if you want to understand just how muddled things were. it has been edited for formatting and readability, not for content:


I am the hoaxer that is responsible for the faked rumours on Android and Me regarding Android 4.2. I do not want to cause lasting harm apart from making Google devs laugh out loudly. I do not want Google to face unreasonably expectations (I’ll explain why some of the proposed feature are cool but unfeasible later). I really like Google (I like Big Bird, too). So, here is my confession (or my petty attempt to milk some more attention, if you will). All the reports about the features of Android 4.2 are nothing more than a wishlist of me.

The following rumours were not part of the hoax, though:
– The WSJ Article that reported that there are several Nexus devices this year.
– The rumour that states that there might be a LG Nexus and the confirmation from CNET.
– All the 4.2 handy that were spotted on several server log.
– The rumour regarding the forbidden SD-slot.

I am sorry that I am a cheap liar and I am sorry for everyone who was fooled – except for Taylor Wimberly, who himself has lied to all of you. Every blog I made contact with passed the test and refused to publish these fabricated rumours. Taylor Wimberly was the only one who not only took the bait but added another layer of untruth to it in order to make the rumour more believable. He has said that I am a longtime source of his, but this not true ( see the whole exchange at the bottom of this post). If he hadn’t done that I would apologize, but there is no shame in fooling another liar.
He hasn’t released the last batch of rumours yet, which was designed to make more sense of some of the former rumours. Overall, in the comments there were some voices of reason who pointed towards the contradictions of these incomplete rumours, but not enough to make the crowd as a whole suspicious. The biggest caveat should have been what a monumental undertaking this update would have been. All these changes together would absolutely warrant a jump to 5.0.

– Customization centre:
I still believe that this is a good idea for Google (sans the OEM skins), basing on my experience with my Iphone-using girlfriend who really likes the customizability of my Android phone, but wouldn’t switch because she hasn’t the patience and the skill to tinker with the phone like I can. For the average consumer an Android phone is not one bit more customizable than an Iphone. If Google changed that, it would be a huge selling point.
Time and effort: moderate

– icon templates:
When you buy an icon set on xda, you often get a photoshop template to make your own icons. If Google would manage to incorporate something similar into Android that would be gorgeous – for consumers and artists alike.
Time and effort: moderate, but you would probably have to change the icon format, which affects all apps. It would take some time until all icons work with these templates

– post filters:
My girlfriend asked me, why she couldn’t use instagram to alter the appearance of her iphone homescreens. I like the idea.
Time and effort: Google has recently acquired Snapseed, so the filters shouldn’t be a problem. The real challenge is the performance drain of this feature.

– OEM skins optional:
Enabling manufacturers to add their skins (only the skin part of their modifications!) to the customization centre is no big deal, but if the nexus devices become dominant, this may be a way to differentiate the devices (and stifling innovation) without delaying updates or forcing touchwiz fans to by non-nexus phones.
Time and effort: none for Google

– HAL:
The customization centre is no solution for the slow updates, but an additional software layer that connects the hardware drivers with the operating system might be (like a BIOS). With this so called Hardware Abstraction Layer (a slightly different thing than Android’s or Linux’s deprecated HAL) the manufacturer could update their drivers without interfering with Android and Google could push Android updates to the devices without OEM support.
Time and effort: monumental scale. This is especially hard because it affects both the efficiency and the performance of the device. And you would still need custom drivers for unsupported hardware. A HAL would not only be hard to do, but would also take considerable resources to maintain. Last but not least, it would be a return to the 90s. So this is only a humble suggestion because of the enormity of the task.

– Project roadrunner:
Obviously this wouldn’t affect the battery life too much. 10% extra stamina would be a huge achievement. But by enhancing the algorithms that adjust the brightness of the screen and radio activity, there is some room for improvements.
Time and effort: huge, with comparatively small results. It’s hard if not impossible to optimize the energy performance without control of the hardware drivers.

– media streaming, game program:
I would love Google to step up their game in the content wars to close the gap to amazon and apple. This could make Nexus devices more attractive to non-geeks and henceforth be an incentive for OEMs to release more devices with stock Android.
Time and effort: Huge for Google’s business department. They have to compete in fields where other companies like Sony, Amazon and Apple are better. Maybe a dedicated secure memory that is used for buffering media streams can be used to make Android more attractive for content providers.

– enhanced video app:
The main selling point should be a very comprehensive API, that can be used by third-party software to tie in. If Google cannot get the necessary licences to improve their media portfolio, they could let other companies step in. Give netflix, spotify, and so on direct access to the main media apps and make these services more accessible for the user.
Time and effort: Moderate

/end of my wishlist

If you want to be the next hoaxer, here are some tips from me:
– Read Going Postal and Making Money from Terry Pratchett. This will teach you everything you need to know.
– Prepare a good story. Don’t just contact a blog and tell them “I have some rumours. Please post them with your name attached”. You need a (fictional) motivation why you would share your information.
– Make sure that the info you are trying to spread matches your cover story. For example, if you pretend to be a game developer, you cannot feasibly have knowledge about upcoming device specifications.
– Be specific about things your fake identity can feasibly know. Vague rumours mixed with already established stuff don’t convince anybody.
– Timing is everything. Start with your false leaks when real rumours start to appear in a very vague fashion. If you start too early it is suspicious why there is such a huge leak out of nowhere. If you start too late, there are too much people in the know who can debunk your stuff very easily.
– Be patient and don’t panic if no blog bites in the first days. If your plan is not working at all, seed some minor rumours that confirm a small part of your initial rumour. That adds credibility to your claims and puts some pressure on the blogs to release their rumours before anyone else does.
– In the end, it all comes down if your rumours make sense and if your cover story is convincing enough to be taken seriously.
– Don’t do it. It’s bad.

@ Android Blogosphere:
Overall: good job. Only one of you was foolish enough to publish it. The rest of the gang only posted the story after Android and Me brought it and warned their readers explicitly about the nature of these news.

———–
Conversation with me and Taylor Wimberly:
Hoaxer >>> Hi,
I am interested in rumours regarding the nexus games program and companies that may participate in it (I have heard THQ and Bigpoint). If you hear something, even something that is not reliable enough to put on the site, please contact me. I can provide you with information about the main features of Android 5.0 (and 4.2) and details about the nexus games interface and the control API in return.
We
were told that 4.2. will be formally introduced at a LG event in Nov not in Oct. Maybe Rubin drops some hints at Dive Into Mobile this month, but the main event is one month later. 5.0 is due next autumn, but there will be some huge changes, both to Android and the Nexus program.
If you are interested, hit me back.
Cheers,
Peter
Taylor >>> Hi Peter, let me dig on Nexus games. I bet I can find some info.
Hoaxer >>> Thanks in advance. This is much appreciated.
Cheers,
Peter
Taylor >>> Ok I reached out to several Android game devs, a couple of veteran bloggers, and some inside sources at >>>DELETED<<< and >>>DELETED<<<. Hopefully someone will respond with info.
Do you know the product name of the LG device? I heard Nexus 5 a couple times, but not sure I believe that.*
* At this point, he posted on Twitter: “Does anyone have info they can share on the upcoming Nexus Games program?” If I would be a real source, I would be really pissed now. So much for subtlety.
Hoaxer >>> Thank you very much 🙂
It’s LG Optimus G Nexus. The whole flagship phone concept is a thing of the past. Every manufacturer can release phones as part of the Nexus program. It’s their own choice, but they have to adhere to some standards: the device uses vanilla key lime pie while custom UIs are only available through the new customisation centre, the devices must have a 64 mb secure memory for media streaming, it must have the specs to run Nexus games and so on. So manufacturers will probably release some of their phones as a normal and a Nexus version, but I don’t know the plans for every company. But the LG Optimus is the first device with Android 4.2 and to make use of google’s streaming services.
Cheers,
Peter
Taylor >>> So you say the device must use vanilla KLP, but I was told that Android 4.2 will still be Jellybean. Are you talking about future devices for next year?
Hoaxer >>> Hey,
have you heard from your >>>DELETED<<< contact? I am really interested in this, because he should probably know if there are other companies involved or not. We have an important meeting tomorrow and this could be a big chance for me.
Thanks in advance,
Peter
Taylor >>> He said he was digging on it. I believe he can come up with something. I’ll email him again and see what he found.
Hoaxer >>> Looking forward to an answer. Every bit helps. As I have promised, here are the details:
Android 4.2
4.2 is a small update, mainly female/consumer/casual targeted. The UI is the more or less the same as JB. The biggest change is that homescreens are shown as tabs.
There is a new Customization Centre, where you can change ringtones, language packs, background, launchers, and so on. There is nothing too sophisticated (for now). The centre is mainly a convenient way to enable the average customer to do some basic customizations. The range of options can be expanded via google play of course. However, there are two new features: templates that change the appearance of all (newly introduced) dynamic icons at once, and post filters that change the appearance of the whole UI – think of Instagram.
Project Roadrunner enhances the battery life.
The video player stock app gets a major revamp and provides an API for other video services to tie in.
Enhanced Google Play with personalized search, optional promotional campaigns + notification centre integration, more billing options and for developers: easier in-app micro-transactions.
Google Now provides help for handling the stock OS, aka “Where can I activate bluetooth?” or “How can I tone down the brightness?”, to make it easy for newbies to settle in.
This update targets the casual audience and lays the groundwork for the next big upgrade. But I don’t know the finer points, so maybe there is something more interesting in this upgrade. Developers may be excited to hear that they get more access to the OS, although the customization centre may have additional constraints. In addition, we are a little bit worried how much performance the visual filters cost.
Nexus programm
The nexus program changes drastically. Every manufacturer can produce Nexus devices or Nexus versions of existing phones. They closely work with google on the hardware and driver details (there is a more efficient solution for this in 5.0), but google is responsible for the updates (don’t know how the carriers factor in). The phones don’t necessarily have to have “Nexus” as part of their name, it works more like a certificate like “HD Ready”.
The devices have to fulfill some basic requirements. The manufacturers have to support google closely. The phone need to have the hardware power to run all Nexus games. They have to support google wallet, aka have NFC and secure memory, which is upgraded to 64 mb minimum and probably lots of other requirements that only google and the manufacturers know of. Important for us is, that we can plan our games for a certain hardware equipment and don’t have to worry over oddball configuration (unless we want to support non-Nexus devices).
The manufacturers may provide their custom UI through the customization centre, but don’t have to and surely don’t have to on devices of other manufacturers. When google upgrades android and a manufacturer fails to provide a compatible version of their custom UI the device reverts simply to the stock UI (or the user waits with the upgrade until the manufacturer catches up). Non-standard hardware features like extra buttons or a stylus are still only supported when used with a custom UI – that means for us, no games with stylus control, etc.
There are two carrots on a stick that probably make the Nexus brand a huge selling point. Google Play gets expanded with a media streaming service component and there will be games that only work on nexus devices. The streaming service uses the secure memory, making it harder to pirate the content. No word of the type or source of the media (besides that it isn’t gaming related), but it seems to be a big deal.
Android 5.0
The big feature of this update is the tabbed interface that is deeply integrated into the OS. From 5.0 on everything is a tab: browser windows, home screens, opened apps, folders, etc. If you open an app, it occupies the whole screen in a normal fashion, but you can simply navigate back and forth from there on. Tech-unsavvy people cannot get lost anymore – everything is only a finite number of swipes away. 5.0 also integrates real multitasking, making it possible to show two tabs beside each other – no matter which kind of tab that is. We worry a bit what happens when you play a game and accidentally swipe to the next tab, but I am sure there will be a solution in time.
5.0 will introduce the Nexus game program, basically an enhanced and easy to use library and API for developers that covers all the basic controls. Google is working with some game studios to have some exclusive launch titles.
The library concentrates mostly on AI, graphics (but doesn’t provide a complete engine) and controls. For example, you don’t have to code your own controls for a strategy game, you can use a standard method: draw a rectangle with the touch of two fingers and select everything inside it. Or you can use the Nexus gamepad, a software gamepad, consisting of two circles with an inlaid X. The X can be used as four buttons or as a directional input area by gliding across the screen.The feature that makes this game pad work is that you reset the circle under your thumb when you tap the screen. You can make your own interface, but Google makes it really easy for the developers with this huge library (and the customer gets used to controls that are shared between several games). There will be several titles at the launch of 5.0 that use the Nexus gamepad, but, as far as I know, more casual stuff.
Google introduces a new virtual machine-like software layer right on top of the driver level to decouple the OS
development pipeline from driver upgrades to a certain degree. We are not sure how much performance is lost by this or if it is still possible to access each device’s hardware directly. We were promised be a complete new SDK to handle all the additional and revamped stuff by the time of Google I/O.
Keep in mind that I was not involved in the talks personally. Beside the game stuff, which I see with my own eyes on a daily basis, there may be bits that I have missed.
Hope, this helps. and thank you for your time, digging for me.
Taylor >>> Thanks for the update. Still nothing on Nexus Games. I sent a couple more email and I’ll let you know if I hear anything.


Hoaxer, as posted on Android Police

(thanks, Max)]]>

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