The grand conspiracy to leave Nexus owners high and dry when it comes to fancy new Google Pixel features like fingerprint gestures has finally been exposed. But as with most conspiracies, the explanation is far more pedestrian than the conspiracy nuts would have you believe.
Far from an elaborate scheme to force Nexus owners into the more expensive realm of Pixel phones, the simple answer seems to be that bringing fingerprint gestures to the existing Nexus devices just wasn’t a priority at Google, even though it is apparently “doable”.
In case you need a little refresher on the whole thing, a while back it became evident that the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X likely wouldn’t get the fingerprint swipe gestures included on the Google Pixel phones. Googler Ian Lake told disappointed Nexus fans on Google+ that:
The fingerprint swipe requires specific hardware which unfortunately is not present on the Nexus 5X and 6P AFAIK.
That “AFAIK” at the end is critical here. Unfortunately, Lake’s “missing hardware” speculation was taken to be fact and when teardowns later revealed that the 6P/5X and Pixel phones used the exact same fingerprint scanner, Reddit blew up with outlandish claims of Google lying to its customers.
Lake has now come out and explained, apparently only to Android Police, that it is not a hardware issue (as he erroneously speculated), but a firmware issue, admitting that “same hardware doesn’t mean same capabilities, alas.” The Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X simply use older firmware than the Pixel phones which doesn’t support swipe gestures.
Updating the firmware used and HAL and some other stuff will take some effort. Doable.
Firmware is indeed updatable, but as a Pixel kernel developer noted on Reddit a week and a half ago: “bullhead and angler use similar hardware but older versions of firmware that don’t have gesture support. Updating the firmware used and HAL and some other stuff will take some effort. Doable.”
While this is far from a guarantee that the Google team will update the firmware on the 6P and 5X to support swipe gestures, it does indicate that it is at least possible – if Google deems it worthwhile.
However, updating the firmware of hardware components isn’t a walk in the park and Google may very well stick to its apparent position that an update is out of the question. This might change if enough people demand it, but it just as easily might not. If it would take too much time, effort or money to achieve you can see why Google might pass on it.
If the update would take too much time, effort or money to achieve you can see why Google might pass on it.
What’s important to note here though is that, just like the original comment, none of this is officially from Google. If a Googler makes an “AFAIK” comment on social media it should not be taken as an official statement from Google.
When the inevitable petition springs up on this issue, I’d suggest you sign it, if for no other reason than you will make your feelings known. Just don’t bank on Google doing anything about it. In the meantime, seek solace in the fact that there is a clever workaround available.
Do you think Google should make the effort to deliver scanner gestures to Nexus phones?