Every month, Google releases a new security patch update for support Nexus and Pixel devices. You have the option to either wait for the OTA update or to manually flash the update via fastboot. Shortly after the release of the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, Google released the first Android 8.1 Oreo Developer Preview. Rather than wait for the OTA to roll out, some people decided to flash the factory image for the release. After all, if it works for security patch updates it should be fine to do so for major OS upgrades, right? Unfortunately, some users of the Google Pixel 2 quickly discovered that flashing the update via fastboot was a mistake. Flashing the Android 8.1 Oreo Developer Preview caused some users’ devices to be soft-bricked, and now, 5 months after this incident, Google is finally putting in place checks to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Back in October, some tech journalists such as Ron Amadeo from ArsTechnica, Steven Hall from 9to5Google, and our very own Daniel Marchena discovered that their phones were not properly flashing the Oreo 8.1 factory images. For some users, this caused their device to no longer boot. After a few hours, Google caught wind of the issue and temporarily pulled the factory images. Besides a vague mention of an issue with the bootloader, not many details were shared about what was going on. Two fixes for the issue involved updating the fastboot binary on the PC and/or to extract the factory image and flash every partition manually.
But now we know exactly what caused the problem, and what Google is doing to fix it. In a new commit to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), Google acknowledges that the Android 8.1 Oreo release for the Pixel 2 was “a bit of a disaster” because users with an outdated version of fastboot would “blindly flash too few partitions.” This is what caused the early Pixel 2 bricks, apparently. The commit adds a new feature to the fastboot protocol that lets a text file specify when a device has a new partition that must be flashed to, which should hopefully prevent another situation like this occurring again.
So that’s the end of the Pixel 2 failed update saga. There was never anything wrong with the factory image themselves, but rather people using outdated fastboot binaries. Lesson learned: update your files before you try flashing a new OS upgrade over fastboot!
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