It’s nothing personal, and hate is a strong word… but there is something seriously lacking with the Android experience right now. I don’t think that fundamentally Android is a bad idea, I just think there is something on the execution end that isn’t translating to the great user experience that is so vital for smartphones. Steve Jobs called it “fragmentation.” I call it too many greedy companies. Allow me to explain.
1.) Where are the all important updates?
If you bought an Android phone in 2010 there is a good chance it shipped with Android 2.1 which was a nice little update to 2.0. The problem is that Android 2.2 was released in the summer of 2010 to compete with the iPhone 4. What does this matter? Are you an AT&T customer with a Samsung Captivate? Did you ever receive your 2.2 upgrade? If you’re saying, “I don’t even know what a 2.2 is?!?!” Then don’t panic I’ll tell you. You received (if you were lucky or paying attention) the update on February 24 of this year.
Again, in case you’re counting, that’s seven months after 2.2 (also called Frozen Yogurt, or Froyo) was released. In that time Android also released two new updates to its OS. The Samsung Nexus S was the first (and still only available) Android 2.3 phone on the market and Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) was released for tablets. Yes folks, while you patiently waited for your update that the sales rep assured you was coming, Samsung and AT&T had other plans.
Samsung wasn’t the only company with Android update woes either. Motorola planned a mobile event right after the launch of the iPhone 4 in order to excite Verizon customers about the new line of Droid phones they had coming out.* The two new Droid phones they released (the Droid X and Droid 2) were going to ship with Android 2.1 and receive a Froyo update, “at some point in August.” HTC also had the same problem with the EVO when they released it.
See the problem does not stem from Android itself, it comes from the manufactures of the phones. See Android’s philosophy is similar to the early days of Windows.
Google decided to do the exact opposite of what Apple did. Apple designed the iPhone’s hardware and software. That is one of the reasons everything just feels good on it. Even the tiniest flick of the screen and the iPhone will smoothly scroll in the direction you need it too. It is a phone that is perfectly made to handle the software that was designed for it. Google decided to develop an open source OS that anyone could download, tweak, customize, etc however they wanted to. Users have complete and total control of anything they do or do not want on the phone. Fundamentally its a model I agree with and support 100%
Unfortunately manufactures don’t have anyway of singling themselves from the competition if they install stock Android on a device. If HTC designs a phone with stock Android 2.3 and Samsung, LG, and Motorola all do too, they only differences in the phone is the way they look. So what these companies have done to alleviate this is develop “skins” to build on top of Android to single themselves from the competition. HTC has Sense, Motorola has MotoBlur, and Samsung has TouchWiz. These “variations” cost time and money to develop and when a new version of Android is released the OS not only needs updating… but the skin does too (this is one of the reasons WP7 is so responsive, because Microsoft did not allow any of the manufactures to ‘skin’ up the phones)! It is expensive for a company like Samsung to release a phone with Android 2.1 and then immediately roll out an update to 2.2. They have to revamp TouchWiz, Sense, Motoblur, whatever it is they are using too. There were also rumors that manufactures were charging carriers for the update process (to which the carriers would say HELL NO). That reminds me, all these updates bring me to my second point.
2.) New School Device…. Old School Software
Because of the release of so many Android phones, manufactures will design a new phone with some amazing bells and whistles. They will spend hours in an R&D lab somewhere and dream up what new features users could be craving.
Finally, after months of market research and testing their new baby is ready for the world. However, because they don’t really care about the user experience and Android 2.3 came out after they had already tweaked the phone’s software settings the way they wanted it, they’ll just keep Android 2.2 on it and push the update off for months. There are two devices that are shining examples of this:
First there is the Dell Streak, a 5 inch (screen) beast of a phone that can record 720p, has a 5 megapixel camera, and other beefy internals I won’t bore you with. The phone also was one of the first to have a front-facing VGA camera with it so people could finally video chat.
You see this phone was a beast! Still is! It was one of Dell’s coolest devices they’ve release in a long time that wasn’t a PC. What’s the problem then Josh? Why are you so angry? Well the problem was that the phone, which was released in June of 2010, came loaded with Android 1.6! What?! Android 2 had been out for months? 2.1 was in it’s infancy so I could see a problem with it being installed… but 1.6? In case you are wondering Android 2.0 was released in November of 2009, SEVEN MONTHS before this phone was released. I don’t care how much field testing/market research has been done, if a phone is coming out with software that is (at the time) 2 cycles old, you have to update the software!
Another glowing example of this is the yet-to-be-released HTC Flyer. A 7 inch Tablet with an interesting feature that really separates it from the competition… A Stylus!
“Wow, what a great idea! A capacitive touchscreen tablet with a stylus for writing because, I tend to still do that! I bet this thing is awesome!” Well, it will be.. or I should say, would have been. You see the flyer is going to come stock with Android 2.3 which is a cell phone operating system. Samsung released the Galaxy Tab a few months ago and things are not going well for it. The Android OS was clearly not built for tablets and it shows badly. Apps look blown up and confused with all of the screen real estate. The solution to this problem, for Google, was to release a tablet OS and call it Android 3.0. That means that not only is that new Flyer you have your eyes on not even considered a tablet anymore (because of the phone OS on it) it is not even getting upgraded to Android 3.0.
3.) Cheapness has never been so cheap before
Lastly I want to point out the worst part of Android (in my opinion). Any company, regardless of experience with smartphones, can take Android and put it on anything and call it a new “Android Device”. Engadget has a great list of crappy Android devices which I don’t have time to list so I’ll just point out a few.
That’s right folks! For $99 and a pounding headache you can buy an Android netbook that Google has blocked from getting access to the Android Market because the user expeience is so bad.Yes it seems that anyone with a basement and a knack for computer parts can become an Android start-up company now. This little guy was such a joke that they gave one away on the Engadget Show and the hosts were laughing at the guy who wanted it because of how fantastically bad it is. Engadget seemed to make a point of blasting this device. Everything from the form factor to the extreme lag of the device were all reasons Android suffered. If any company can just throw some crap hardware together and then slap Android on it and sell it does that really help Google’s fight for open source? I think not. So what about a real company? The big manufactures aren’t doing this are they? Well, then there is the…
Acer Aspire One AOD250
Acer is a real company. A really good one in fact. They build some quality Windows 7 laptops and (oddly enough) good monitors. However, they got caught up in all the bad of Android and decided to put it on an Aspire One. See the netbook market should stick to what does it best, and Windows does netbooks best. Acer got fancy and dual-booted their netbook with Android to give users a unique opportunity. It turned into an opportunity for frustration…
See Paul Miller was so frustrated with the situation he repeatedly said, “You have to boot into XP to get anything done.” Really? That sounds like a fantastic way to waste time! I’ll hop on the Android OS and only do some work that doesn’t need to get done and then just jump onto Ol’ Reliable XP when I need actual productivity from a device I buy!
The list goes on trust me. There are countless phones that come out with Android and the experience is completely miserable. From the laggy touch configuration to less app support these phones are what is crippling Android. Many writers are hopping on the Android bandwaggon and even calling it a “freight train.” Maybe they are right. However, until Android sets a minimum spec list and sticks to it and locks certain aspects of it’s OS down so manufacturers can’t customize it to the point of zero functionality, (which won’t happen because they are open source) I see more people wanting something that works better than what they are used to. In my opinion average users don’t go to Android because of choice… they go to Android because they are on T-Mobile or Sprint.
Remember- you are loved
*Motorola released an Android phone they call the Droid… Droid is a type of phone. Not all Android phones are called “Droids”
Sources: Lots and lots of sources for this one soooo yep…
This one is SUPER interesting. Look at all the tablets being released this year with Android 2.3 on them instead of 3.0!: http://www.engadget.com/features/tablets-at-ces-2011/
Also: a HUGE thanks to Matt Habern of Habern Productions for the logo redesign!!!
UPDATE 1: it seems I’m not the only person who thinks Android needs to cut the “skinning” out Google does too.