Carriers being able to determine which software features are available is nothing new. After all, some carriers hide the mobile data and hotspot options in the notification panel. Unfortunately, that might extend to the ability to display signal strength for Android P.
In Android, there are two ways to check for signal strength out of the box: looking at the five signal bars up top and dBm, which is the numerical signal strength. No, the former doesn’t give the full story, but both measurements are useful in telling you how your device is performing on the network.
That is why it’s a bit baffling that, once XDA Developers started looking around in some commits, it seems that carriers will eventually have the ability to hide that information from device owners. More specifically, signal strength gets hidden as soon as you pop a SIM card into a device, so the device does not need to be purchased from a carrier for signal strength to be hidden.
The code did not indicate which carriers will auto-hide signal strength information. Also, because it does not affect how APIs allow apps to get signal strength information, you will still be able to download an app that displays signal strength information.
Even so, we are not sure why this is being done. Carriers have never asked for signal strength to be hidden before, and it doesn’t seem like Google is interested in knowing why that looks to change.
Maybe it’s because carriers don’t want people to know exactly how well (or poorly) their devices are performing on their networks. Maybe it’s just because they feel like it. Either way, we likely won’t get an official comment on the matter from carriers.
We’ll have to wait until Android P becomes available to find out which carriers auto-hide signal strength. That information is something that can make or break a device for people — I like the Essential Phone, but I can’t use it because of poor signal strength relative to other devices I own.
As such, I hope that this doesn’t come to fruition, though we’ll keep you updated on whatever happens with this.