25 January 2012

Wake up, Android device manufacturers

Apple’s Q4 results were its best ever. They even managed to claw back some marketshare from Android. This should be a loud wakeup call for Android device manufacturers. I’ve been an Android user for a couple of years now, but let me say that there are some areas where Apple wins hands down.

Choice

Too much choice is a bad thing. I like that Android has phones with and without keyboards, phones in a variety of sizes, and so on. Unfortunately, HTC, Motorola and Samsung seem to crap out a new phone every couple of months, most of them indistinguishable from each other.

HTC Amaze, Wildfire S, Sensation, MyTouch 4G, Evo 3D, Evo Design? They’re all keyboardless. Apart from one of them being 3G, I’d be hard pressed to decide between them, or even tell them apart in the store.

And yet, the amount of real choice is less than ever. The phone I want is nowhere to be found (see end of posting).

Support

If you get an iPhone, you know there will be OS updates for a couple of years. In contrast, Android handset vendors have screwed over customers so many times that I won’t buy a phone unless I know for sure it’s supported by CyanogenMod. People who don’t care about freedom so much will just take the easy option and buy an iPhone. Trust matters deeply when you’re not technically minded.

I want to buy a tablet. Right now, I’m waiting, because I don’t trust any of the vendors to actually ship Android 4 for their tablets in a timely fashion, even if they’ve promised that it’ll be here in weeks. (I learned that lesson from HTC with my phone.) Again, people who don’t care about freedom so much will buy an iPad, because at least they can trust that Apple will ship OS updates for a year or two.

Experience

Part of the reason why manufacturers say they have trouble shipping OS updates, is that they all insist on layering extra crap on top of Android. But that’s not the only reason to dislike the value-subtract which handset makers keep applying.

My phone used to have HTC Sense. Installing CyanogenMod was the best thing I ever did to it. Suddenly the address book worked properly and I could star favorite contacts. The launcher lost the horrible bubbles around the icons. The useless social stream app and the voice search that never worked were gone, and the phone search button did something useful again.

I went to T-Mobile to look at phones. The HTC ones still have Sense UI crap all over them, and it’s still ugly. I don’t want it. And if you’re one of the people who does want it, there’s nothing to stop HTC from offering it as an optional add-on exclusive to their phones, without forcing it on people.

Motorola have claimed that the carriers are forcing them to layer UI crap on top of Android, because otherwise they’d end up with a half dozen identical Android phones on their shelves. Well, yes, see “Choice” above. Screwing up the UI so your multiple identical phones will look different is solving the wrong problem.

My perfect phone

OK, so support and experience suck, but at least we have choices, right? Well, it doesn’t seem that way to me. Here’s what I want from a phone:

  • A good camera.
  • A microSD slot for music, so I can replace my aging iPod.
  • A hardware keyboard.
  • Stock Android 4.x.
  • GSM compatible with T-Mobile.

So many Android phones out there, and yet precisely zero of them seem to meet my fairly mundane requirements, even if you relax the demand for Android 4. In fact, right now T-Mobile has no stock Android phones at all. Yet it wasn’t too long ago that they were selling the HTC G2, a stock Android phone with keyboard.

Something is very wrong here, and unless Google and the phone manufacturers can do something about it, the iPhone might get back the position of #1 smartphone platform.

© mathew 2017