I think it's safe to say that Android is the best thing to happen to smartphones since the iPhone (though, I'll admit, I may be a wee bit biased). Without a doubt, the massive success of the operating system is due in large part to its openness; the ability for devices to share fundamental code, while still allowing for an amazing amount of customization, has provided something for consumers, carriers, and manufacturers that Apple would never match. And it's for that reason that Android has taken off on such an unbelievable scale, clocking nearly 900% growth in 2010.
But despite all the things Android does great (and the list is definitely long), there are still a few places where it falls short. Four of our editors - Chris, David, Jaro, and I - have decided to take a look at what we see as the worst of these issues, and propose a few ways to improve the situation as we see fit.
Unfortunately, the idea came about because Chris's frustration with Android has pushed him away from the OS entirely - even to the point that he's stepping away from AP. Below is his "editorial" - copied and pasted straight from his farewell email.
It's been a blast working with all of you over the past 9 months, and it's insane how much the blog has grown in content, team members, and traffic.
As you've probably noticed, I've been increasingly absent over the last few months. This was due, in part, to some personal events I had to step away to deal with, but what it really has boiled down to is my increasing frustration with Android.
Most of you probably know I switched to the Epic 4G the day it was released, and while I still think the hardware is some of the best on the market, the software could use improvement. Samsung promised Froyo for the US Galaxy S phones by the end of last year, but we've all seen how that's played out. At this point, unless Google implements a model requiring manufacturers and carriers to push out phone updates in a timely manner, the life cycle of Android phones is comically short before they're obsoleted by the next big thing.
My frustrations with Android as a consumer have begun to bleed into my love of Android as a tech enthusiast. I can't look at a single Android device at this point without wondering how long it will take before that device is obsoleted either by A) better hardware or B) lack of software updates to keep it current (or C) both ).
I hate to say it, but more and more, Apple's model is looking increasingly attractive. Sure, you have more choice with Android, but is that always a good thing? More choice and diversity on Android have led to an ecosystem where system specifications and software versions vary wildly from one handset to the next, and I think we've spent too much time worrying about whether or not fragmentation is hurting developers and ignoring how it's actually affecting consumers.
With Apple's model, everything is pretty simple: once a year, a new phone or a revision to the existing phone will be announced. Along with the phone usually comes a software update with some desired features as well as upgrades to existing capabilities. The software update is usually coordinated to be released alongside the launch of the new hardware, and at that moment, the most recent hardware revisions usually have the option to upgrade their OS.
Compare that to Android: the Nexus S is announced with Gingerbread. The Nexus S is released...and here we all are. We're either waiting for carriers/manufacturers to push out updates, or we're relying on the community to pick up the slack. Even at this point, there's no telling which phones will receive an upgrade to Gingerbread, or which 2.1 devices will receive an update to Froyo. Other than the officially sanctioned Google phone(s) of the moment, it's pretty much impossible to know if or when your phone will ever receive an update.
In moving from the Nexus One to the Epic 4G, I noticed something else as well. Android has a revered community of OS hackers, sure (for example, CyanogenMod), but unless you gravitate towards a very mainstream device, there’s a good chance you may not see much diversity amongst the available ROMs for your device, and, in some rare, unfortunate cases, the quality of the ROMs may suffer due to a community’s smaller size.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that fragmentation is even evident amongst the community, and there's no guarantee that anyone will come along and donate their time to improving the software on your phone, which, let's face it, wouldn't be necessary if the manufacturers did things right to begin with.
I'm for open, I'm for hacking, and I'm for choice, but I'm just exhausted by the complexity of the ecosystem, and until Google does something to fix it, I have a feeling I won't be the only one.
As difficult as this problem may seem, I can think of at least two fairly easy ways to either solve the problem entirely, or at least help put the consumer’s mind at ease:
- Google steps in and requires members of the OHA (Open Handset Alliance) comply with a set of Android device update schedules, or risk losing their membership in the alliance.
- Manufacturers and/or carriers commit up front to providing updates for devices, and ensure the information is clearly accessible by consumers. For example, I’d be much more compelled to buy a device that I know will receive at least two updates rather than the roulette game that device purchasing is now.
Android is a great platform, and it has tons of potential, but as we’ve seen recently with Motorola’s announcement that they’re killing off the Cliq XT and with it any hope that the device will be updated from 1.5 to 2.1, it’s evident that there are still many kinks to be worked out.
So, sorry for the rant. I loved every minute I spent working with you guys, and encourage you all to contact me when you see me online, whether it be to shoot the shit, or because you have writing questions, it doesn't matter -- just shoot me an IM. My contact information is in my signature.
We'll be posting one editorial per day through Monday, so be sure to check back every day for the next part in the series.