Google’s Pixel smartphones support a handful of features that the Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X don’t. Why not? According to Google, the hardware doesn’t support at least some of them — namely Night Light and Fingerprint “Moves.” Google confirmed outright last month that the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X physically couldn’t support fingerprint gestures since they require the new fingerprint sensor…
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Then someone on Reddit found an interesting flaw in that argument: both last year’s Nexus phones and the new Pixel devices use the exact same fingerprint sensor. Obviously, that sparked a controversy on Reddit from loyal Nexus users. So what gives? According to a Google employee, it’s because of firmware:
To clarify this point, 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.
The Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P both use an older firmware version compared to the Pixel and that firmware doesn’t support swipe gestures. So it is technically possible for the hardware to support the gestures. Another Googler, Ian Lake, further confirmed this point to Android Police stating that the “same hardware doesn’t mean same capabilities, alas.” He again attributed the lack of support to the different firmware version.
Putting the effort into getting this working reliably on the older 6P and 5X would require quite a bit of time and resources, something which, at this point, is probably not worth it for Google — especially since the extra engineering effort could always be used to further improve the Pixel.
So long story short, it’s possible for Google to enable these gestures on last year’s Nexus phones. As per the aforementioned Googler, “Updating the firmware used and HAL and some other stuff will take some effort. Doable.” But despite the use of the word “will” here, it seems unlikely that Google will put in all the effort to bring the feature to last year’s Nexus devices. Granted, there are some pretty talented developers out there…
Update: According to a statement given to Android Police, Google is “evaluating” a firmware update for the Nexus 5X and 6P to add this feature. However, this doesn’t mean the feature will come or that it’s even likely. It is encouraging, though, that Google is actually listening to feedback from users.