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Verizon Shocks Android Users With Rare Competence


Nobody expected Verizon to roll out Android 4.4 KitKat before it was released for Nexus devices. Nobody.

Can somebody check the thermostat in Hell? Seems to be running a bit cold down there.

Verizon (NYSE:VZ), the US carrier guaranteed to be a distant fourth in rolling out smartphone updates to users, shocked the Android community with a surprisingly prompt rollout of Android 4.4 KitKat to its Moto X users -- not even three weeks since Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) unveiled the latest version alongside the Nexus 5. The over-the-air upgrade is so speedy, in fact, that Moto X users are officially running KitKat before Nexus 4 users, who were promised to be first in the upgrade line when they purchased their Google devices last year. Heck, Verizon even beat AT&T (NYSE:T), Sprint (NYSE:S), and T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS) -- the other major US carriers supporting the Moto X -- to the update punch.

So where in the world did this newfound competence at Big Red come from?

In recent years, the relationship between Verizon and Google has been rocky to say the least, thanks to Verizon's numerous offenses and transgressions, which made it the red-branded stepchild amongst the main four carriers.

It completely botched updates for the Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) Galaxy Nexus, the flagship Nexus phone of 2011 and the last one to run on Verizon's network, and tarnished the "first for updates" promise that came with every Nexus device. Verizon also buried Google products in favor of lesser, proprietary ones -- most notably, Google Wallet (which was unceremoniously disabled due to "conflicts" with Verizon's own mobile payment system, ISIS) and the Nexus 7 (a tablet device that Verizon has yet to "certify" to run on its network, despite it containing the necessary chipset to do so, so the company can release its own lackluster tablet, the Ellipsis 7). Add all of this to the fact that Verizon Wireless is a CDMA cell network, as opposed to the more global-friendly GSM networks, and you can see why Google is reticent to release a special Verizon model of its last two Nexus devices in order to cater to a provider that, in all likelihood, will ruin them.

But apparently Google and Verizon were on good enough terms this year to release a Moto X model that was supported on the carrier's network. Although, that could have a lot to do with Motorola Mobility not exactly living up to the $12.5 billion that Google paid for it. Considering that the Moto X is the first press-worthy Motorola device since the mobile manufacturer was acquired, Google probably wanted to get that thing out on as many carriers as possible.

Unfortunately, thought it was named the best Android phone of 2013 by many critics, the Moto X isn't a runaway success: Only about 500,000 devices were sold in the third quarter, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. Comparatively, the Samsung Galaxy S4 sold more than 10 million units within a month of its April release. This led to a $100 price drop for the device, making it $99 for the 16GB version and $149 for the 32GB version on contract. But the price-slashing didn't end there: Verizon then took an additional $50 off for a limited time.

Translation: Verizon really wants to unload the Moto X.

But perhaps learning its lesson from the Galaxy Nexus, Verizon boldly came to the conclusion that an Android device with the latest software might actually be a more attractive purchase than the ones it's abandoned in the past. And like Dumbo proving he had the ability to fly all along without a magic feather, Verizon sends out the 4.4 update less than a month since its release. (It certainly helps that Moto X features a very light skin atop stock Android, making it far easier to develop for than one sporting Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC's Sense.)

However, lest you think that from here on out Verizon is going to be the king of speedy updates, let me add that this is most likely just a one-off business move or PR stunt to make one device an easier sell. But every single Android user relegated to the largest (and priciest) 4G network in the States would welcome Verizon adopting a faster pace for upgrades and maybe, in turn, improving its relationship between with Google. Perhaps then we'd finally see the likes of another Nexus smartphone running on Verizon's network.

One can dream.

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