This past week Google announced Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) and a new flagship phone (Galaxy Nexus) to show off their new software. Inadvertently, they also killed Android, and I couldn’t be more happy.
Depending on who you ask, Android is winning the smartphone market. The problem is Android is such a fragmented piece of crap that no phone has anywhere near the same market share as the iPhone. Counting Android by including every phone in existence is like counting Honda’s market share by counting cars, quads, generators, and blenders in the same category. The reason Android is “winning” is because they provide a free platform that any manufacture can take, modify, and put on any hardware they deem fit. This provides a ton of freedom for manufactures and carriers to make money by differentiating their software/hardware and attempt to make some sort of brand loyalty. Because of this freedom, 60% of all smartphones available on the four major U.S. carriers are Android devices. With ICS, Google just lopt off the head of their own business model.
With Android 4.0, Google is attempting to unify the software platforms to allow customers to get the latest and greatest version no matter what device they have. Devices not receiving updates has been a sore spot for Android for years and Google is trying to remedy that. Google plan is to allow users to uninstall anything that ships with their devices. The problem is, manufacturers rely on widgets and skins that give them brand (dis-)loyalty. This is one of the key ways that a manufacturer can set their version of Android apart from someone else’s. If users have the ability to uninstall that skinning, manufacturers have no real purpose to develop any special software unless they go all out and remove that functionality like the Kindle Fire.
Carriers also rely on putting bloatware in phones for 3 reasons:
- It allows customers to easily buy services from the carrier
- It differentiates services between carriers (e.g. NFL mobile)
- It gives carriers kick-backs by including games/apps when users buy the full version
If users can uninstall the bloatware, manufacturers won’t have a reason to spend money to develop and pre-install these apps.
The lack of software differentiation is very similar to Windows Phone 7 where carriers are not able to skin the operating system, and users can uninstall any 3rd party software, even bloatware.
Hardware differentiation has been Android’s real bread and butter. You can have devices as simplistic as the Nexus S and crazy as the Echo. Hardware fragmentation has been yet another layer of difficulty for customers to get upgrades. Right now (< Android 3.0) software upgrades have to be written on a phone by phone basis by the manufacturer and approved by the carrier (except Nexus devices). If the carrier doesn’t want your phone to be upgraded, because they’d rather you buy a different, more-better phone, you’re SOL. It is then up to the hacking community to port newer versions of Android to your device, and you had better hope that the manufacturer didn’t lock your bootloader and you bought a popular phone otherwise you are, once again, SOL.
With ICS, it “theoretically” will work on a lot of the newer Android devices, but you still have to play the wait-and-see game if you will ever get that update. Waiting for Android updates is like watching paint dry for the 21st century. Except sometimes, the paint never dries.
Google is once again trying to remedy the situation by creating standards for new ICS devices. With on screen buttons, super high resolution screens, fast processors, and GPUs my 2005 desktop would be jealous of. Only problem is, with hardware standards, Google limits manufacturers ability to differentiate (i.e. fragment) which means all the new Android devices will be similar, if not identical like Windows Phone 7.
If carriers cannot differentiate on software or hardware, why would they pick Android at all? There’s no brand loyalty, less 3rd party app money, and no unique hardware features. All there will be is jobless developers (those that develop HTC Sense for example), up to date phones, and happy customers. That sounds great, until you realize that Microsoft did this exact same thing a year ago with Windows Phone 7 and all it has got them is 5 identical phones, no brand loyalty, terrible sales, and slightly happier customers. I am glad Google killed Android, but I think they have a long way to go before they figure out the best method to resurrect Android into a world conquering force. After all, there can only be one Jesus Phone; everything else is just a zombie.