Rewind the clocks back to 2009. Loyal T-mobile customers got their first taste of Android during quite possibly the biggest revolutions in smartphone technology to date, and boy was it ever an experience to be spread through word of mouth. As someone who worked for the company and was able to see Android evolve from the early on to today's massively different beautiful version, I've seen my share of customers coming from all walks to find out just what Android was all about and what it had to offer that other platforms lacked. While every platform lacked something and still does to this day, Android gave a fresh new look to people who lived in the fast paced life of today's modern society who need constant updates to email, access to their personal social experiences on the go, and wanted to be able to pull up the web and directions at the drop of a hat. Back then, the difference was customization. And it was vastly different from the customization options offered to iphone, blackberry and windows mobile users. Android certainly is an entirely different beast today compared to the beginning stages; with Jelly bean 4.1 just released to the Nexus line, and Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 continuing to rollout to devices as you read this, we are in a unique time of smartphone evolution. Think about android in the past. While I loved it, it was a little limited compared to today's standard device, but thanks to creativity, it consistently moved along at a quick pace. These changes, have proven to be the backbone of the Android ecosystem and kept it moving in the right direction.
Back before cupcake, we all know android was nowhere near perfection. However it was something new and it offered features that weren't available elsewhere. This appealed to a large group of people. The most major problem during those times was the lack of flavor to the user interface of the software and how it worked. Some found that the answer to this tiny problem was choosing a phone that had an appropriate device UI overlay from the manufacturer. HTC sense, Samsung Touchwiz, and *GASP*, Motorola's motoblur are all examples of UI skins that are layered on top of android software. Except for maybe the last one, motoblur in my opinion is so bad it sets android back a level. While I have always though UI overlays give the operating system a sort of flare that has until now not been achievable by Android alone, they slow down your device like crazy. I have used personally and had the opportunity to experience devices carrying every variety of OEM UI overlay possible and I can tell you they absolutely are no match for stock android on speed. The great things about Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, is that Android has finally reached a point where things look more streamlined than they have ever been and more beautiful than before. Seamless fluidity from just about any function to another, and things like Google Voice and the updated notification bar contribute huge amounts to this. There is no more denying it. Android has blossomed into a beautiful OS. Anyone who says otherwise just hasn't used anything running 4.0 or 4.1 enough to notice.
While I can see why manufacturers wanted to put their stamp on Android in the past, today it just isn't needed. The only reason for doing so now any more is to try to set themselves apart from the competition, because both 4.0 and 4.1 look good enough stock and function well enough without any sort of additives. And let's face it, if you've been using Android as long as I have and have seen as many forms of it as I have, you know as well as I do that the UI overlays not only slow the phones functionality but make it harder to push updates to devices. This is the reason why Nexus S users will be moving to jelly bean 4.1 before summers end, and users on phones like the galaxy s 4g on T-Mobile are still stuck on gingerbread with no possibility of even the update to ICS. It's a shame sure, but this is why manufacturers do things the way they do. They want to upsell customers to new devices every 6 months to a year if possible by bringing out a new device when the new software drops. This is a mistake if you ask me because customers just feel slighted that they have to upgrade in a year. While some don't mind being on the bleeding edge, most consumers prefer to keep their devices quite a bit longer.
If manufacturers gave customers options to have Android look and feel how they wanted instead of how the company feels it should be, they might have more happy customers. I get it; the OEM wants to put their own spin on things. They want customers to buy their product. So they try to one up the other with visual and functional enhancements. These so called enhancements are improving things any more though. Jelly Bean is the very tip of an android experience. And I must say, it's a beautiful view from the top. If only the brands would recognize this and start to come up with a strategy to give customers the power of choice instead of forcing their hands like a dictator, we'd all be happier. There are ways for this to happen, these brands just need to think about this more clearly and really analyze what people want. Here's how it could be possible to make Android better for everyone:
- Customers want their power back - I am a consumer. Just like the rest of you. I hate that I have to wait over a year for the next update to improve my phones functionality and design just because the company is too slow to push the software or because they just refuse to. Android was meant to be a pure experience. To give users the best and most exciting experience possible. At the stage it's in, customers could easily have this type of experience if they weren't held back from doing so. This is specifically why I chose to use the Galaxy Nexus instead of upgrading the Galaxy S III and will never look back to another type of device as long as I live. They get updates fast, and I still have a choice to customize my phone like Sense or any other OEM UI if I want to. But I do not have to. If the manufacturers would run with this same philosophy as Google they could easily see a lift in customer growth. Making the phones with a stock Android experience and allowing the customers to choose if they want the skins or not keep customers happy and still give the brand to attach their own flavor of software improvements to their handsets. This give customers the power to choose how they want their phone to look and feel but not be held back from any updates that come out at the end of each year. Every phone will drop off the support train sooner or later sure, as this is evident of the users on the Nexus one. This is because of hardware limitations. But users still got a good few years of updates before they couldn't handle any newer versions. This is the way it should be.
- The early bird gets the worm - We've all heard this saying before. I believe it to be as true to this scenario as any other. The early bird referring to users getting the update as early as possible, and the worm referring to a happy user experience, thus making them loyal and keeps them coming back. Making future devices with the newest version of the OS as possible and allowing the phones to get the updates when they are pushed from Google gives customers an early start to the newer features. The OEMs could then take their time with pushing out their own skins if customers wanted to download them, which would help keep things from being limited, instead of pushing out hardware with the OEM skins already attached. With Android where it is now, the OEM skin doesn't improve any functionality at all. Pure is better in every "sense" (no pun intended) and performs better as well.
- You're a hardware company; Make "Hardware" - Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG. All companies that make hardware of various types. This is their specialty and they are damn good at it. When did it become so important to focus on multi-tasking your abilities to force upon consumers? There is a serious lack of research and development here and customers are the ones paying for it. In the end though it only ends up hurting the brand. This is a perfect example of what I am trying to explain here. The HTC HD2. Some of you may remember it. Some of you may have even been part of the sad demographic that was duped into buying it. If you take a microscope to the device, you'd see that the hardware was actually quite stellar for the time. A 1Ghz processor, a giant 4 inch display, lots of memory. All great things about the device. Yet, it tanked as a consumer product because of the software and all its problems.
For those who don't know, the HTC HD2 ran windows mobile 6.5 with sense. Almost the demise of windows software on mobile phones as a whole if you ask me. The point is, the hardware was great, the software, not so much. Customers who had the guts and the knowledge, took to rooting and flashing Android onto it, and actually had a much better experience then with the stock software that was manufactured into it! Most of these problems I believe stemmed from the Sense version that was on the device, which illustrates my point. HTC makes hardware. Microsoft makes software. And instead of letting Microsoft take the lead in the software department, HTC chose to bring their own tools which ultimately lead to a horrible product for most of the consumers who bought into it. Now windows mobile 6.5 was no gem, but it would certainly have been better if the option to have no Sense overlay at all on the phone was given. If this was how the brands looked at things when developing their next device, and saw that they should focus on the hardware side of things and not worry so much about the software, the list of devices to choose from would be ultimately better. Android is better than it has ever been. The functionality is uncanny and manufacturers need to see this for what it is. Sorry, but the OEM skins are no longer wanted at the party on a grand scale. Nor are they needed. (They do look nice though.)
When it comes down to it, the basic idea is that Android has evolved to the point where it doesn't need to be enhanced by more software. It looks amazing and functions even better than it looks. At the rate the updates are pushed out by Google, which is roughly once a year, all customers deserve to have the improvements that Google intended their software to receive. Phone choice should have no bearing on if you get and update or not. Unless the limitations of the device hardware just can't support the newer updates. In the future if we were to see Sense and Touchwiz as an afterthought instead of headliner, we might see more people on the latest version of android before it becomes second to another later version. Jelly bean was released just a week or so after it was announced at I/O 2012. Most Galaxy Nexus devices already have it. And its rolling out to Nexus S devices now. It hasn't even been a month! So we know the software can be pushed out quickly. The sad thing is, if you look at the percentages of what OS version Android consumers are running, the results are staggering and actually quite surprising. Only 10 % of Android users are on ICS, which rolled out respectively last year. Jelly bean, the newest and most exciting android experience yet, has already started to hit phones, and we still only have 10% of users on ICS. The rest is all on 2.3 gingerbread or below.
Going forward, does any of this information change your minds at all about your next device choice? I have gone Nexus and am never switching to anything else. My recommendation to you consumers out there is just do your research when it comes to your choice of phone. Look at all its features and make sure that you are happy with the software and how the phone performs. If you're ok without updates or if it particularly doesn't matter to you, then you have a plethora of devices at your disposal.