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.

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