(Editor: Every so often our consultants have an in-depth email conversation between themselves on topics of emerging technology. These conversations are often informative and entertaining, so I’ve been tidying them up and posting them to our blog. This session focuses on the problems (or are they?) with Android mobile devices.)
If you didn’t see this must-read article “We Need to Talk About Android” via Daring Fireball earlier, then I highly recommend reading it now. This is the best articulation of the issues with Android in the market that I have seen to date.
Andrew and I had a nice long discussion about this yesterday after I’d read the article you sent around. I still assert that the bulk of the problems don’t lie in the Android software, but in the Android ecosystem, which I don’t think anyone is arguing. Android is a perfectly capable, viable platform, but Google’s ostensible reluctance to take more of an active role in their hardware vendors is hurting them, more than helping. I see this as a byproduct of the notion that desktop OS’s and PC hardware (and, by extension, the paradigms that come with them) are perfectly translatable to mobile devices. This is a notion that I consider to be patently false, and the only companies that will succeed in the long-run are the ones that realize this.
Amazon was really on to something with the Fire, but I get the feeling, and George you can help validate or disprove this, that they’ve shot themselves in the foot by sitting on Android, more importantly, sitting on Android the way they are sitting on it. Inasmuch they have no intentions of maintaining feature, version, or API parity with the rest of the Android community, and updates to their system are likely to be few and far between since they’ll likely be spending the bulk of their time fixing and re-hacking their already massively hacked Android version.
It’s a complex issue in the grand scheme of things. Hardware vendors need their product SCA’s, customers want choice, developers don’t want to kowtow to an ivory tower app approval process, and Google doesn’t want to be Apple. These are all legitimate problems, but solvable ones. However, they are also ones that no one seems to be making attempts at solving. Google continues to update Android, and seems to do very little to spur faster adoption, and also tends to skirt discussions around their market saturation at a version-specific level. Sure they can say “X% of the phone market is running Android”, but what they aren’t saying is “X% is running the best Android”. And that’s going to bite them sooner or later, which is unfortunate.
Re Amazon: I don’t think they shot themselves in the foot choosing Android, or even an older version. I think their problems stem from the fact that they’re not well versed in device software. It seems to me that they took their experience with the Kindle e-readers and assumed that would translate into real understanding of tablet devices. And it didn’t.
I also think they screwed up by contributing to another aspect of Android fragmentation and implementing their own app store. I understand the desire to control the platform, and trying to gain some Apple-style control over the distribution channel might have solved some real issues, but the ship had already sailed. So what you get instead is a solution that pisses off developers and consumers.
Re Google and faster adoption: They can’t do a thing to spur faster adoption anymore. The ecosystem they designed for Android completely breaks down the concept that they have any say at all in how quickly things get adopted. This was supposed to be a strength of the platform, but it wasn’t very realistic when other economic factors are taken into account. Amazon is a useful example here, too: they were able to fork Android, leading to more fragmentation and confusion, precisely because the platform was open to that type of forking.
Google doesn’t have a leash on Android, and it’s too late to do that now.
Are you sure customers really want choice? I think they want value first. Personally, I have an Android phone because Sprint, the most economical major carrier, didn’t offer the iPhone when I signed on — and even if they had, iPhones were still $300 + 2 years at the time. And I think price is still the deciding factor for a lot of current generation Android phones. They are generally in the
When it comes down to it, Android is pretty much the Linux of the mobile landscape. Yes, it’s cheaper, but you kinda know you’re getting the knock-off experience of that which those willing to pay for the iPhone will have. And at the end of the day, that works for a lot of people. Some of us drive Toyotas even tho we’ve seen or even ridden in BMW’s.
And so some vendors are customizing Android to put out proprietary offerings? So what? TIVO did that with Linux and was perfectly successful – for a while. Linksys, D-Link and Belkin are all still doing it successfully. Who says that you have to maintain feature parity with the mothership to the end of time? Forking is part of open source.
Pointing out that an environment where both open source and huge corporations are trying to play together is kind of a [disaster] seems a little “Well, duh . . .” to me. But I was entertained by your musings nonetheless
Just my $0.02.
++ to Jay’s comments. I like the Linux analogy. Android is whatever you make of it, and the hardware manufacturers are in the drivers seat on that for adoption of features. Also, in this same analogy, the Kindle Fire is in a sense not Android at all, given how they’ve forked the UI, feature set, and app store. Perhaps OS X is to a BSD kernel as the Fire’s OS is to Android is a better way to put it. It’s a platform with a reference implementation, which is the one that ships on the Google-sanctioned Nexus phone du jour.
Heh, I own a Toyota because when I bought it I didn’t care enough about cars not to. I reap the benefits of dependability, but damn the drive is awful.
Again, I’m not trying to be down on Android. I think there’s lots of potential there but I still don’t think that these concepts of the desktop, such as the freedom and openness of Linux and all the wealth that comes with that, ports well to phones. Tablets, maybe, but that’s a big maybe. I agree that people want value, but choice is good too. Android users have the choice of a tactile keyboard, physical buttons, no buttons, big screen, little screen, square, curved whatever you want in a phone theres a droid for you. If you want an iPhone but, like my mother, seem incapable of using the virtual keyboard, well your SOL, and that simultaneously reduces value.
I just think that people want to use these devices for much more than checking email and making phone calls, and those capabilities come from developers obviously. However if their ability to provide these experiences at their absolute best is hindered by fragmentation of OS API’s, device features, etc then that hurts the whole ecosystem.
This works for me, though I don’t know if there’s a strong conclusion. The original article was about the reasons why android as actually implemented is a problem for certain markets (and the problems described as pertaining to education are just as applicable to corporate BYOD strategies).
To some extent, we conflated the problem of Android adoption as a tool of enterprise with the question of whether or not Android fragmentation and choice is good for consumers. I would argue that, even with the multiple fragmentation issues (OS, hardware, app delivery), Android is generally good for consumers, since, as Jay pointed out, prices are driven down by competition and carrier marketing strategies. But for the enterprise, many of the challenges outlined in Fraser’s post make many consumer-oriented Android devices less desirable.