[Opinion] Why the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 may not get new Android updates

Yesterday, Google announced Android 7.1.2 would be releasing soon and launched early builds in their beta program for users to install and test. Absent from the list of devices expected to receive this new Android update were the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, both of which devices I own and have no desire of replacing.

Although I am not a programmer or developer and may lack workflow knowledge of how supporting operating systems works, I do have some insight and understanding to Android and technology as a whole. I think I have an idea as to why Google is abandoning these 2 devices. First, I want to acknowledge that both the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 are over 2 years old now and Google announced they were planning to end support in October 2016. Other than age, the reasoning is unclear. Apple supports their products much longer than 2 years and many use that fact as an example to criticize Google with.

Why the Nexus 6?

The Motorola Nexus 6 smartphone was not meant to exist. Google was rumored to end the Nexus program in favor of one called Android Silver. Supposedly, Android Silver was scrapped late and Google scrambled to push out the Nexus 6 to fill the void. The Nexus 6 was unexpectedly successful for a Nexus product. It didn’t sell like a Samsung Galaxy, but it was difficult for Google to keep stocked.

Something to point out about the Nexus 6 is that it’s the last 32 bit Nexus phone Google launched. Future devices all run at 64 bit. Although the core of Android is similar and drivers exist for both 32 bit and 64 bit, I suspect that supporting both 32 bit and 64 bit is inefficient for their development team. Since Android 7.0 launched, Google released a couple of Android updates and in each case, the Nexus 6 received it late with one exception. I feel this might also be related to difficulties or inefficiencies in supporting the two OS platforms.

This is a simple theory, but one that is often ignored by the critics. I also admit that any developer with experience in operating system development can put up a stronger argument against this theory due to my lack of knowledge and experience in this field. Until I am proven wrong, which I will accept, this is my interpretation on this decision.

Why the Nexus 9?

My theory about supporting 32 bit vs 64 bit operating systems falls apart for the Nexus 9. That’s because the Nexus 9 is Google’s first 64 bit Nexus, which happens to be a tablet. The problem with the Nexus 9 is that it was dead on arrival. The tablet was grossly under powered for the premium price Google was asking for it and those that did buy it suffered problem after problem. All of which Google never officially acknowledged. Few owners were problem-free, luckily I was one of those few.

Because of the bad reviews, poor user experiences, and over pricing of this tablet, it didn’t sell well. The fact Google released the Pixel C tablet just a month or 2 after the Nexus 9 shows that Google lacked confidence in the Nexus 9 or recognized their failure with the launch of this tablet. Prior to the release of the Pixel C, the Pixel brand was reserved for Google’s Chromebook line and the discovery of the Pixel C using a Chromebook bootloader suggests that the Pixel C was originally intended to be a Chromebook tablet. Perhaps it was converted to an Android tablet in an attempt to recoup the losses of the Nexus 9. Of course, now we have the Pixel smartphone that is a success. It’s difficult to determine if this was the plan all along or the limited success of the Pixel C lead to the Pixel phone.

Regardless, the fact that the Nexus 9 didn’t sell well leaves little motivation for Google, or any company for that matter, to invest time and money to support it. In addition, the rampant problems users experienced with the Nexus 9 might indicate an even smaller user base to support than the sales figures might indicate. The impact of dropping Nexus 9 support is minimal to Google because the number of those that would complain is small. This is simply an opportunity for Google to sweep this tablet under the rug and forget it existed.

Google and leaks have suggested that Android and Chrome OS will be merging in a future tablet/laptop device, possibly launching this year. This will replace the Nexus 9 and the possibly rushed Pixel C. The next batch of Chromebooks coming out this Spring are rumored to support Android apps out of the box, further adding confidence to the rumors. Is dropping support for the Nexus 9 a small part in a bigger picture in the evolution of the tablet?

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