Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The sad realization of Android and handsets...

Samsung's piss poor support aside, I'm still getting the Nexus S next month. I'll be replacing my trusty Nexus One. It was at this point that I really began to think about why I was replacing it.

The Nexus One was a major technological leap for Android. It was the first one with a 1 GHz processor, Android 2.1, a new method of purchasing, and one of the phones (the Motorola Droid being the other one) that I believe started the Android revolution.

I then thought about the shortcomings of the Nexus One. Probably the biggest was the touch screen sensor. The Clearpad 2000 was terrible and it shows since the two finger rotation in Google maps 5 is disabled. The GPU is also pretty weak and the phone's got a pretty limited storage (though I've never had much of an issue with this).

I next thought about the Nexus S. It has a better touch screen sensor, GPU, a front facing camera, the NFC chip, super AMOLED display, and a unique design. Clearly, this phone would be worthy of long time ownership.

However, what bothers me now is all of the new phones coming out. No, I'm not having second thoughts about what to get. If I really wanted to, I could just spend the money on another phone and alternate. I realized that Android and the phones have became like PCs. While I have echoed this for some time that Android and smartphones would be like portable computers, I now see the downside.

There is a lot of growing concern with enthusiasts of Android about the fragmentation. There's really no problem on Google's end. They continue to produce the OS and new versions arrive quite quick. Almost too quick. No it seems that the carriers and manufacturers have entered in to the game of PCs.

PCs have always had one terrible stigma as long as I have used them and that's a new computer will be out in less than 3 months that is far better than the one you bought. We're still seeing some major leaps in computers, but we've hit the point where a decently priced unit with good specs will last you several years without the necessity to replace it. However, we're now stuck in the 90's with smartphones.

New smartphones are hitting the market everyday with better and better specs. However, there's a problem with this. The market is growing, but not nearly as fast as the PC market was. Adoption to PCs was quick and widespread because they were useful to the entire family or businesses or just a regular Joe. The cost of ownership was what you paid upfront. The choice to upgrade components or the operating system wasn't a necessity.

The problem with this rapid influx of new smartphones is the adoption rate of them is dramatically slower than with PCs. There are really only around 250 million smartphones worldwide roughly compared to the billions of computers (some households such as mine own multiple computers). The cost of ownership is much higher. One typically must enter into a contract with a cell phone carrier which will give them a subsidized cost on the phone varying anywhere from free to $200. These contracts (particularly in the US) usually have to keep a data plan on them costing around $30 generally. Contracts are signed the majority of the time for 2 years. Even if you obtain the lowest basic plan for talking and a $30 dollar data plan (you can sometimes get $15 plans, but the amount of data is so small it renders the main portion of the phone useless if you ask me), costing on average around $70 a month with the hottest, newest phone at $200, you're looking at around $1900. You could buy almost 4 to 5 decent PCs for that amount.

Since the customer is locked in the contract and can usually only upgrade 2 months before it ends, choosing a smartphone is almost like purchasing regret. Newer phones are being brought out monthly that make your purchase look inferior. The only choice at that point is to purchase a phone unsubsidized which usually runs $400 to $500 for a high end Android phone.

Do I think I'll feel regret after purchasing my Nexus S? Not likely. I still own the same laptop that I bought two years ago because it's still powerful. It may not run with the new big dogs out there, but it gets the job done for me. Likewise with the upgrade from Nexus One to Nexus S, I'm going to a much higher end phone in terms of graphical power, efficiency, and features.

Still, the manufacturers are over-saturating the market right now and the game is rigged. Manufacturers make all of their money on the initial purchase of the phone where the carriers rake in all the future dollars. With the carriers wanting to strip Android of specific features so that consumers must purchase their services and manufacturers having no urge to upgrade phones when you can purchase a new one, the consumer is getting screwed. All capable phones should be on 2.3.2, the latest version of Android, but these two knuckleheads are preventing it from happening to bend the customers over the rails. This is the sad state of Android and its openness. Open for manufacturers and carriers so that they can close the door for consumers.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Samsung fails again, Android is spiraling, and other silliness

Well, Samsung did it again. I could have seen it coming a mile away. My first Android phone was a Behold II. At the time, rooting (or jailbreaking for the iPhone crowd) was unknown to me and the source code for the phone wasn't released (it would be released till almost a year after I ditched it) so there wasn't any reason to root. I almost gave up on Android early on just because of how bad this phone was.

Instead of giving up on Android, nearly two months after purchasing the Behold II, I opted to buy the Nexus One. My faith in Android, renewed from the overall performance of the phone and the timely updates of Google, brought me back in full force. I vowed to never purchase another Samsung device afterwards.

Samsung, however, came back with the Galaxy S series. It was a leap up in many technological areas that other phones couldn't touch. The phone was released internationally before it hit the USA. When it did hit the USA, Samsung and the carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile) did something unique which was to release the phone in many different incarnations depending on the carrier.

Coming out with Android 2.1 first and promising to upgrade to 2.2 shortly after it was released, I already knew what would happen. See the Behold II was released with version 1.5 and publicly promised an upgrade to 2.X. After months of dodging the question when we would see the update, Samsung announced that the phone could not go to 2.X and that 1.6 would be the only upgrade in order to avoid a potential lawsuit. This of course, turned out to be a bold faced lie as a hacker had managed to put a mostly function version of 2.2.1 on the Behold II after the source code was released.

Now we sit at the same crossroad again. Samsung has managed to upgrade the international version to 2.2, but none of the ones in the USA have it. Then, T-Mobile announces the Vibrant Plus (a upgraded version of the original Vibrant, T-Mobile's version of the Galaxy S with HSPA+, front facing camera) that ships with 2.2. The public was not happy. If the Vibrant Plus has 2.2, why doesn't the original have it if it's ready?

And now we see the disaster unfolding. Android is fragmenting rapidly. The only reason we don't see timely releases for the upgrades across all the carriers and manufacturers is greed. The carriers want certain features stripped from the releases like tethering to charge more to the customer. The manufacturers want to push new phones rather than updating old ones. Because the carriers have to strip out features, they keep sending the updates back to the manufacturers who then must make sure that the modifications don't interact with their user interface.

Google needs to step in. There's a time for neutrality and there's a time to take a stand. Google risks losing its rapidly developing user base because of the carriers and manufacturers. They need to be proactive and establish some guidelines for their clients in order to fix the fragmentation. Obviously since Android is open source they can't simply tell them no to that, but they could prevent carriers from using their closed source apps like the market or maps. Either way, Google needs to get all current cell phones on even footing this year or Android risks turning into Linux: a massive jumble of ROMs in which the consumer can't tell what is what and the OS loses any potential mainstream appeal.

The worst part: I intend to buy the Nexus S, but only because Google is behind the updates.