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It’s been an interesting few weeks in Pixel software updates. With this particular cycle coming to a close, let’s recap:
The March cycle actually started on February 28 with Fall Detection rolling out to the Pixel Watch. First announced in October, it was a server-side rollout that only required you to have the January update on your watch.
Usually, Pixel phone updates arrive on the first Monday of every month. March 6 saw no Feature Drops (or Android 13 QPR2),but a high-level changelog leaked anyway that afternoon to reveal a rather small update.
What we did get that week, on March 7, was the Pixel Buds Pro update that enabled Spatial Audio with head tracking. Fixed-position Spatial Audio launched in January, with Google teasing head tracking for its earbuds back then.
Another wrinkle emerged on March 10 when Google said the Android Beta Program would require you to opt out to get QPR2’s stable build. Previously, all Beta-enrolled devices got the stable release. With this change, Google said you first had to leave the program and ignore the downgrade prompt as you wait for the March update to roll out. While this policy change is good for beta users in that it cuts down on how many things they have to install, the risk of an accidental data wipe is too great in my opinion, and many people anxiously asked what to do despite Google’s explanations.
The March 2023 update finally arrived on March 13, but only for the Pixel 4a-5a, 7, and 7 Pro. Google made no mention of the Pixel 6, 6 Pro, or 6a, in a return to how those Tensor-powered phones were behind on updates at launch.
Later that week, on March 16, Google’s Project Zero — a team focused on finding 0-day exploits — discovered severe Exynos modem vulnerabilities that could allow for silent and remote (by just knowing your phone number) compromise of a Pixel 6, 6a, and 7.
The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro were protected (from the four biggest issues, as we learned yesterday) if you updated to the March security patch, but as the update had not yet arrived, the same could not be said of the Pixel 6 family. The disclosure — very boldly — recommended turning off VoLTE (not possible on Pixel) and Wi-Fi calling to avoid this issue.
It’s worth noting that this advice was not given by the Pixel team, but rather a separate, independent group of researchers within the company. Nevertheless, the optics were rather weird and emphasized the sometimes desperate nature of Google. Some coordination (i.e., waiting for the update to be out on all Pixel phones) would have gone a long way in minimizing panic.
Meanwhile, on March 17-18, another user-facing vulnerability emerged in the Markup utility. Some screenshots could be un-redacted and un-cropped depending on what service (e.g., Discord) you posted the capture to.
On March 20, the Pixel 6 series got updated and Google detailed a rather big Pixel Watch update. For the past three months, the wearables were also updated on the first Monday of the month. (As of Tuesday, the update is now widely available.)
Like with the Pixel 6, it’s not clear why this update was delayed (and if the modem vulnerability had anything to do with it). Of note is how the Pixel Watch definitely saw a newer build than the one on a Verizon changelog that leaked out ahead of time. Changes were definitely made.
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