For Consumers, Android Is More “Clopen” Than Open

Imagine if when Windows 7 came out, it was only offered on only one particular Dell computer. It was also uncertain when or if other computers, including those made by Dell, would ever be able to upgrade to it. Welcome to the “clopen” world of Android.

Android “Open” For Whom?

Google has made much of Android being “open” for use by anyone and thus potentially better than the “closed” system of the Apple iOS world. But “clopen” would be a better way to describe Android, as some have, because it’s both closed and open at the same time.

There’s no doubt that Android is open for anyone to use. Amazon has used Android as the basis for its Kindle Fire, but a version of Android altered so much that you can’t run apps from Google’s own official Android Market. Instead, you have to use Amazon’s own Android App Store.

But Android is largely closed for the typical consumers who use it, because they have little choice about which version of Android will run on their device. They’re left at the mercy of the device makers or mobile carriers.

Waiting For Android 4

The release of Android 4 — “Ice Cream Sandwich” — last month is underscoring this issue once again. It’s available only on one-and-a-half models of phones right now. Both are from Google: the new Galaxy Nexus and its predecessor, the Nexus S.

One-and-a-half? The Nexus S is the half-model, because only those with the GSM version of the Nexus S (used by T-Mobile and AT&T in the US) get updates. Those using the Sprint version of the Nexus S have to wait.

It really doesn’t get more absurd than being unable to know when or if you’ll get the latest version of Google’s own Android operating system on Google’s own Nexus S branded phone. It’s as if you owned a Mac but were given no clue from Apple about whether it could run a new version of Mac OS X.

Apple & Microsoft Make Updates Easy

Actually, it’s not like that, because Apple would never allow such uncertainty. Apple would ensure that you knew which devices you owned were able to be upgraded to a new version of its mobile or desktop operating systems, say like this for iOS:

Even Microsoft, having to deal with people who want to run Windows 7 on thousands of different computer models that Microsoft itself didn’t build, still provides consumers with ways to know how to upgrade, like the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.

Android Update Limbo

But Android? Consumers are left guessing. If Android 4 was a real ice cream sandwich, it might melt long before it was delivered to customers.

A big reason behind this mess is that Google doesn’t actually sell the Android operating system to consumers. If it did, it would probably care more about ensuring customers (because that’s what they would be) were covered from start to finish.

The Android 4 page from Google touts all the advantages that the new operating system offers. The page is written for consumers. But nothing on it explains how consumers can actually get the operating system.

Heck, the Android site itself doesn’t even provide any guidance about upgrading devices to the latest version of Android 2 (and around half the Android devices out there don’t seem to run the latest version of Android 2).

Instead, to discover if you will get an upgrade, you have to hope that your handset maker or mobile phone carrier lets you know. In my case, Verizon has told me nothing directly about whether my Droid Charge will get updated. Neither has Samsung, which makes the phone. Support pages from Verizon and Samsung are no help. As a consumer, I’m left in limbo.

If you watch the tech headlines through a site like Techmeme, you can piece together some of the developing picture, such as:

  • Google: Nexus S GSM devices were getting updates, but that’s paused while bugs are being worked out. No official info on updates for the Nexus S from Sprint have been given. The Nexus One is deemed too old for Android 4, not that Google has notified owners of these phones in any way that I can tell.
  • HTC:  The HTC Vivid, the HTC Sensation (including XL & XE), the Rezound, the EVO 3D and Design 4G and the Amaze 4G all will get updates in early 2012, the company has said.
  • LG: The company will release updates in the second and third quarter of this year for various devices. Third quarter, just in time probably for Android 5 to be released.
  • Motorola: On its awesome upgrade page listing all sorts of devices, the Droid RAZR, Xoom and Bionic will all receive Android 4, though the timing isn’t given.
  • Samsung: Various “Galaxy” devices will get updates in the first quarter of this year.
  • Sony: From late March through early May, 2011 Xperia smartphones will get updated.

PC Magazine also did a nice round-up in mid-December, including information from some of the carriers. But couldn’t Google do more to centralize this type of news?

Google has maintained a Google Phone Gallery since September 2010. Why not centralize Android update news through that? Why not, at least, add a filter that allows you to search for devices by the current Android OS they use, information already stored within the gallery.

If Computerworld can maintain this incredible list of devices and where they stand in terms of getting Android 4, Google should be able to do it.

To Upgrade Your Software, Buy A New Phone

To go back to my opening metaphor, the situation now is as if millions of people using computers running Windows Vista are hearing that Windows 7 has just been released but that they can’t upgrade to it right now.

The reasons are plentiful. There’s testing and certification that need to be done. There are also business reasons why updates might not be provided.

I hear the hardcore Android advocates already chanting with their common refrain: root the device. In other words, consumers can install the latest Android operating system directly on many devices, if they want.

That’s not what a typical consumer is going to do. They wouldn’t do it for a Mac or PC, not without a guided upgrade system. They certainly wouldn’t do it if it meant potentially voiding their warranty or that they might need to reroot the device on a regular basis.

Yes, we will see Android 2 phones get upgraded to Android 4 in the coming months. But I suspect it’s more likely that the upgrade process will happen for many current Android owners when they simply buy a new handset and effectively trash the old one.

Why Android Survives This Mess

That’s probably been the saving grace for Android. Unlike PCs, the hardware specs for smartphones seem to change so rapidly. We’re trained to think that phones should get tossed out after two years — and for those who want to pay more for the latest-and-greatest — to upgrade our hardware each year.

It’s also part of the saving grace for Android against the fragmentation and confusion in the marketplace that Steve Jobs lashed out against in October 2010:

Google loves to characterize Android as open, and iOS and iPhone as closed. We find this a bit disingenuous and clouding the real difference between our two approaches.

The first thing most of us think about when we hear the work open is Windows which is available on a variety of devices. Unlike Windows, however, where most PC’s have the same user interface and run the same app, Android is very fragmented. Many Android OEMs, including the two largest, HTC and Motorola install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The users will have to figure it all out.

Compare this with iPhone, where every handset works the same.

Twitter client, Twitter Deck, recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than 100 different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge. Many Android apps work only on selected Android handsets running selected Android versions. And this is for handsets that have been shipped less than 12 months ago.

Compare this with iPhone, where there are two versions of the software, the current and the most recent predecessor to test against.

So what if the user interface on one Android phone is different from another? It’s not like most people are going between two different handsets at the same time. If they get a new one, and things are different, they learn — just like they have to learn when things change (and they do) between iOS updates.

So what if not all the same apps are available for all the platforms? If the most popular apps are, that’s good enough. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare — I’ve never had a problem with using these on any Android phone, I have — and I’ve owned and tested plenty.

But Google Still Should Clean Things Up

These things don’t seem to matter in slowing Android’s growth. But they should matter, and Google should be embarrassed for not doing more to improve the situation.

When Google CEO Larry Page keynoted CES in 2006, he decried the lack of standards on electronic devices:

All the devices at CES, as I mentioned, have keypads and screens and things like that, if you look around. Now why is there no standard for those little screens and keypads?…

Another example [slide of a pile of adapters and cords]: these are the power adapters just lying around our office….Why not instead standardize the power and have a basic [adapter device]….

Despite this, Page’s company sits on top of the Android ecosystem doing seemingly little to really ensure that there is a standard for how and when handsets will get Android updates.

At Google I/O last May, major handset makers, mobile carriers and Google came together to announce what was purported to be a solution to this problem:

The Android ecosystem has been moving really fast over the last two and a half years and rapid iteration on new and highly-requested features has been a driving force behind Android’s success. But of course that innovation only matters if it reaches consumers.

So today we’re announcing that a founding team of industry leaders, including many from the Open Handset Alliance, are working together to adopt guidelines for how quickly devices are updated after a new platform release, and also for how long they will continue to be updated.

The founding partners are Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola and AT&T, and we welcome others to join us.

To start, we’re jointly announcing that new devices from participating partners will receive the latest Android platform upgrades for 18 months after the device is first released, as long as the hardware allows…and that’s just the beginning.

Stay tuned for more details.

As has been observed, watching the uncertainty over the Android 4.0 rollout gives the impression that initiative isn’t working out so well, to put it mildly.

If the carrot hasn’t worked, maybe Google could try the stick now. Any device that wants to carry the Google name on it has to be certified by Google. Why not make a fast update part of the certification requirements?

Why not, as part of releasing Android, make it a requirement that consumers can easily strip the device of its customized Android OS and install the latest version if they want, directly from Google or any Android OS provider?

When I put this to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt back in 2010, when he was CEO, Schmidt said such a requirement would violate the principle of Android being open source. But such a requirement might actually make it more open for the actual users of the software.

As for carrier objections, given the big wet kiss that Google gave them by not pushing for net neutrality on mobile networks, the carriers can give a little back.

Is This The Success Android Wants?

As I’ve said, the fragmentation and inconsistency of Android doesn’t seem to have stopped its success. Google could do nothing and simply bask in the glory of Android succeeding despite the fact that….

  • The “Android” Nook won’t run the Kindle app, because Barnes & Noble doesn’t allow it.
  • The “Android” Kindle Fire doesn’t offer Gmail or Twitter, along with other apps, because Amazon doesn’t allow it.
  • Hulu Plus is available for Android, but not for Android-based Google TV, because Hulu doesn’t allow it to work there.
  • The Nexus S for Sprint, which is perfectly capable of working on Sprint’s pay-by-the-month Boost Mobile sister-company, can’t work there because Sprint doesn’t allow it.
  • My Droid Charge Verizon LTE phone can’t run Android 4 now, and perhaps never, because Samsung hasn’t said anything about it.

To really understand the absurdity here, let me rewrite that in PC terms:

  • My Windows computer made by Barnes & Noble can’t run the Windows Kindle application, because Barnes & Noble blocks it.
  • My Windows computer made by Amazon can’t run the Windows Gmail application, because Amazon blocks it.
  • My Windows computer made by Google can’t run the Windows Hulu application, because Hulu blocks it.
  • My Windows computer made by Google can’t work with the ISP that I want, because the ISP I originally bought it from says no.
  • My Windows computer made by Samsung can’t be upgraded to the latest operating system, because there’s no way for me to easily install it, and Samsung and Verizon aren’t helping.

Believe me, there are issues with iOS, as well. It’s not like any of the iPhones I’ve fully paid for from AT&T were magically unlocked at the end of my contract. It’s not like if I want a removable battery for my iPhone, that I have that option. It’s not like, if I want a smaller or bigger format for my iPhone, that I get any choice in that.

Think that’s a minor issue, phone size? I saw a stranger using an Android phone I’d not seen before two days ago, while I was in a line to buy lunch. I asked about it. The woman told me a bit, including that she liked because it was smaller than the iPhone. Usability, operating system, apps — for her, choice of size was a primary feature.

Android’s openness allows for this type of choice. But from a consumer perspective, there’s still a huge amount of closed about the platform. It feels like Google could do a lot more to open things up and still allow hardware manufacturers and carriers to believe there’s value in staying with the platform.

Related Entries

Related Topics: Apple: iPhone | Channel: Mobile Marketing | Features & Analysis | Google: Android | Top News

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About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Android 2, Android 4, Twitter Deck? Were you born yesterday?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=547011430 Miguel Angel Parra

    I cannot agree with those Win comparisons, there are several important differences:
    - All mobile manufacturers build their machines with the specs they want, there are no standards or minimum requirements, and the technical differences between the lowest and the highest budget machines are very huge. Comparing to Win, it’s an utopy to think you will be able to run Crysis 2 with a 80386, and that’s not a fault from M$ nor even Crysis 2 developers…
    - While there are standard HW architectures in PC market, that’s not the case for mobile market. In Win you need to build an OS to be able to work in different, but homogeneus, platforms. That homogeinity exists even in time, one Win version only needs to face with a reduced variety of system specs. And, if your PC specs doesn’t reach the minimum requirements to run Windows Seven, you can upgrade your HW in an easy and “as-cheap-as-you-want” way. Are you (or anyone) able to convert a Droid into a Galaxy S II in any way, but buying a new terminal?
    - Mac desktop computers hardware is the same as PCs. Are you able (in an easy and completely legal way) to install Snow Leopard in a high grade PC, most powerful than original MACs, even when the HW is compatible? No, you cannot, as Apple doesn’t allow to install their OSs in HW not manufactured by them and they actively block it. That’s the true PC-comparison with the Amazon-Barnes&Noble situation.
    - The fourth point is not related with Google, but with mobile network companies and their access politics. You can buy a free terminal (paying the whole price, not the reduced one offered by telecom companies) and access every network provider you make a contract with (providing a compatible technology, of course). I have a Nexus One and it accepts every SIM card, not just my provider’s one. Comparing with PCs, on the dial-up times some ISP were requiring to access their networks via their own applications…

    Does the version fragmentation exist? Of course, it does. But it’s not (completely) a Google fault. There are more actors in the scene, manufacturers and network providers being the biggest ones, as they filter the Google output. Not having information about Ice Cream upgrade for Samsung mobiles is only a Samsung fault, as they must adapt the OS to their machines. Of course, in a near (or hoply further) future, your terminal won’t be able to run the lastest Android version, that’s a price we all need to pay in this too-volatile market. In PC world that obsolescence takes years to come, in smartphone world it takes months.

    Best Regards,
    Miguel Angel

  • http://www.twitter.com/rurikbradbury Rurik Bradbury

    “Twitter Deck” was a quote from Steve Jobs, someone who does not have the same advanced tech knowledge as you.

  • Anonymous

    can’t wait for Android to add its system updates to the android market, just like Ubuntu does with all of its software packages, No fragmentation issue there and it runs on a lot different hardware.

  • http://htcwildfireapps.blogspot.com/ HTC Wildfire Apps

    good article, i see your point, hoping 4.0 will support htc wildfire

  • http://twitter.com/Fourthletter58 Fourthletter58

    Terrible metaphors seems to be the order of the day in Android articles, no mention of how rubbish iOS 5 was on anything but an iPhone 4 when it launched, and no mention of how badly Microsoft screwed up it’s first update for WP7, to much selective memory here.

  • http://twitter.com/Fourthletter58 Fourthletter58

    Doubtful since 4.0 needs pretty heavy graphics for acceleration but CyanogenMod 9 will answer all your prayers.

  • Anonymous

    Butthurt much?

  • http://jeffdownerbailbonds.com/ Jeff Downer Indianapolis IN

    Surely the hardware capability to run an OS deserves a place in this discussion.  I have owned multiple Android devices and understand they just don’t have the grunt to handle ICS.

    The same applies to Windows.  I have three Windows PCs boxed up in my basement that can’t run Windows 7 let alone 8.

    The fast pace of Android development is the issue here, whether that is a blessing or a curse, I will leave to  individual users.

  • Anonymous

    Good luck with that.

    HTC Wildfire didn’t even get updated to Gingerbread.

    The pattern for Android updates has been so far as follows:
    2 updates for Nexus devices
    1 update for high end devices
    0 updates for low end devices

  • Anonymous

    Bwahahaha, yeah people are really flocking to Android for the “privilege” of access to Cyanogenmod…I”m telling everyone at the cocktail party tonight about that one. Why people continue to bother with this fragmented, malware-infested, laggy, battery-hogging, privacy-destroying, user-unfriendly disaster of an operating system simply because of the lies about “openness” is mind boggling. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dilepton-Shmilepton/100002251997098 Dilepton Shmilepton

    You should all get a windows phone.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Jeff, fair enough point that the hardware should be capable. But that is kind of addressed with the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor that I talked about. With Windows, at least Microsoft has something that tells you if the “device” you want is Windows 7 capable — and there are many, many more computer models out there than Android handsets. Google provides no such advisor at all. It’s not even to the point to debate the issue of handset capability when the company isn’t even trying to let you assess it.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Miguel, Windows machines are built how manufacturers want. Microsoft has dealt with this for literally decades to give consumers some guidance. Google could do the same.
    It’s also not saying that all the machines, if you will, should be able to run Windows 7. As I noted, about half the Android handsets out running Android 2 aren’t running the latest version of it. There’s little in the latest version that’s going to be a hardware issue for the devices. The updates just haven’t been released.

    It’s like having a machine that runs Windows 7 but being unable to even load the latest service pack.

    Agreed on Apple’s closure. And potentially, that’s a weakness Apple will face with the iPhone, because it does lead to a lack of choice, as I addressed at the end.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, bu many people, including myself, had no problems running iOS 5 on the iPhone 3GS or iPad 1 when it came out. 

    Having to depend on the “community” sucks when the you are still in the current life cycle of the device. 

  • http://twitter.com/rogerdooley Roger Dooley

    Great points, Danny.  One of the frustrations of the brand-specific fragmentation are all the apps stuffed onto phones that can’t be removed without rooting the phone, a step I don’t care to take. Windows PCs may come with crapware, but in most cases it can be removed without reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling the OS.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Miguel, Windows machines are built how manufacturers want. Microsoft has dealt with this for literally decades to give consumers some guidance. Google could do the same.
    It’s also not saying that all the machines, if you will, should be able to run Windows 7. As I noted, about half the Android handsets out running Android 2 aren’t running the latest version of it. There’s little in the latest version that’s going to be a hardware issue for the devices. The updates just haven’t been released.

    It’s like having a machine that runs Windows 7 but being unable to even load the latest service pack.

    Agreed on Apple’s closure. And potentially, that’s a weakness Apple will face with the iPhone, because it does lead to a lack of choice, as I addressed at the end.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Jeff, fair enough point that the hardware should be capable. But that is kind of addressed with the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor that I talked about. With Windows, at least Microsoft has something that tells you if the “device” you want is Windows 7 capable — and there are many, many more computer models out there than Android handsets. Google provides no such advisor at all. It’s not even to the point to debate the issue of handset capability when the company isn’t even trying to let you assess it.

  • http://www.charleslau.com Charles Lau

    At this stage, Android could almost have nowhere to go but to move forward as what it is today.

    The direction of Android seems to be working towards making every device different.  And while they are all different, we can still have the option to make common apps (if those devices allow)…

    The only way is to root it and install the original interface with ice cream update… If not, it is still in the manufacturer’s direction…

  • Jerry Bergquist

    I’ve been in love with the Android OS since day one but the love affair has gone bad. I liked the idea of Android being open but it comes with a price since its only open between Google and the phone manufacture. The consumer is lost in the fragmented world of Android.  

    What I mean by that is:

    1. When a new phone is purchased the user will be lucky to get one update during the life of the two year contract. 
    2. To many overlays between the manufactures. 
    3. Lack of minimum system requirements. 
    4. Since the ecosystem is so fragmented there isn’t the same hardware accessories available like in the iPhone. 
    4. Lastly the lack of quality control over the apps in the Android Market.  

    My daughter had an Android tablet and nine months after she purchased it it was slowly turning into a brick its running so slowly. We’re not holding our breathe for the ICS update.  

    I find it funny how we haven’t learned the lesson from Apple.  They started as closed tightly controlled hardware and software.  When Scully open up the hardware the company tanked.  Steve Jobs came back and closed it back up again and the company is better than ever.  

    Google has a good think with Android and they are going to piss it away unless the take control.

  • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

    I don’t agree that Google should limit manufactures from loading their own addons that “break” the default usability in someway, like the Kindle Fire not running the Android app store or the Nook tablet not running the Kindle app. That kind of functionality is at the core of open source licenses.

    If Google made that step, it would no longer be an open source OS. Sure you don’t care, and a lot of people don’t care. But a lot of people do care. And a lot of people would care if Google made Android closed source (note, I don’t think that’s even possible to make a closed source program based of open-source code. They would have to rewrite Android from scratch), there would be a HUGE media uproar with bloggers telling consumers that it was BAD. Android would loose market-share.

    And while Android is nice for internet-connected devices like a tablet or a smart TV because Google did a lot of work for manufacturers already, if Google changed their TOS to make Android devices capable of running all Android apps, regardless of competition between companies (B&N vs Amazon) or licensing issues of content (Hulu can’t let you run Hulu Plus on a Google TV because the networks don’t want you to be able to watch content on a standalone tv without their commercials. So Hulu has to promise not to let it happen or they loose their ability to show content), then those companies would just go back to writing customized versions of Linux, like they did before Android came out.

  • http://openid.aol.com/makesmelaughhard AppleKilledMobileFlash

    The cheapskates just want cheap handsets and that’s what they’re getting, so they shouldn’t have anything to complain about.  Most Android users don’t even care that their smartphones can’t be upgraded.  They don’t know fragmentation from squat.  As long as they can make their little phone calls, run a few apps and browse the web, most of them are as happy as can be.  Google is happy, too, because it’s collecting its ad revenue from the gazillions of disparate Android “phones” being flooded all over the planet and beyond.  Android is winning because they’re probably “activating” a million Android handsets a day by now.  It makes Wall Street happy, too, so they can further devalue Apple stock.  That’s all that matters.  Screw the user because the more “phones” you activate, the more you can be declared the true winner in the smartphone race.  Android phones will eventually reach a billion happy customers.  More power to them.

  • http://twitter.com/Judge_Dan Daniel Marshall

    NoDo, the first WP7 update took 3 months to roll out to EVERY phone.  That is in no way comparable to the mess that Android is in.  Not to mention that it has already been worked out, as Mango rolled out extremely smoothly to all phones. 

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I’m not suggesting that Google limit manufacturers. I am suggesting that at the very least, consumers themselves should have an easy way to install a clean version of Android should they choose.

  • Bilal Akhtar

    Amazon doesn’t allow the Android market to run on the Fire. It has its own (overpriced) market. Google isn’t at fault here.

  • http://www.desinformado.com desinformado

    Excellent and fool-proof article about the Android fragmentation. Google is out to get marketshare, then when it reaches its goal it will provide assistance on how to get the later Android version on any capable device.

  • http://www.twitter.com/guiambros guiambros

    Of course it’s Google’s fault!

     

    They created this mess by creating the illusion of a
    “free” OS for OEMs and carriers. In a world (in 2008) dominated by
    Nokia and Apple and with carriers and OEMs struggling to add value, the promise
    of a free OS and powered by the darling of the web was just too good to pass.
    It was their chance to get back in the game, and so they did. Motorola, HTC,
    Samsung, SonyEricsson, all dropped their own OS initiatives and jumped on the
    Android bandwagon. Each one with their own interests, each one trying to
    control a piece of the “open” environment, trying to become exclusive

     

    But Google had another option at the time: instead of
    doing what they did – build the OS and throw against the wall to see if it sticks
    - they could have decided to exert closer control of the chain: from the user
    experience to the minimum hw specs, the screen sizes, the compatibility
    standards, adoption of their app store, etc. More or less what Microsoft always
    did with PCs. Yes, you may get tons of crapware with your new Sony Vaio, but it
    still essentially Windows. No OEM will be allowed to replace the Windows UI or
    disable the WiFi functionality just because it conflicts with their own
    interests. But on android-land HTC did so with HTC Sense UI and Verizon disables
    Google Wallet on their devices, among many other atrocities…

     

    But here’s the fundamental difference between Google and
    Microsoft: Microsoft *sells* the OS, thus OEMs are treated like customers. If
    you’re a PC OEM you HAVE to (somewhat) follow MS guidelines or you won’t see
    Microsoft’s marketing co-op money (which is a good piece on OEM’s profits), and
    Microsoft has to create software that adhere to what OEMs need and customers
    want to buy. It’s a cycle where both sides have a win-win relationship. Very
    different from the mobile space and even less so with Android.

     

    But I concede it’s a complex environment and you can’t
    really blame Google for their decision to give in to a certain degree. If they
    tried to exert too much control carriers would just show them the middle finger
    and move on, and Android would be dead like webOS. They entered the game late,
    so they had to give up control and somewhat bend over to carriers/OEMs
    aspirations of owning the user. But there’s no doubt they could have done a
    much better job in setting up the standard…

     

    Now the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no way back.
    Amazon’s Kindle Fire without Android Market. HTC with Sense UI. Verizon’s
    Galaxy Nexus without Google Wallet.  We’ll
    continue to see the mess of unsupported devices and fancy OS features being
    destroyed by carriers just because it’s against their own interests.

     

    Not exactly the definition of open to me.

  • RichardL

    Here’s a way that may help you and these “consumers” of which you speak to understand Android OS releases:

    Apple releases new iOS versions under non-disclosure agreement and designated as “beta” to their registered developers. Then some months later (5 months in the case of iOS 5) they make those releases available to the general public, and they remove the non-disclosure agreement so developers may discuss new features freely. 
    Sometimes support for older models is dropped with new iOS versions (as in the case of iOS 4.3 released last March which dropped support for the iPhone 3G and the iPod touch 2 both products that had been in Apple product lineup within the previous year – 5/2010 and 9/2010 respectively). Sometime they fork the OS to support only some current devices (as in the case of the CDMA (Verizon) iPhone 4 which didn’t get updated to iOS 4.3 and wasn’t brought up a parity OS version with the rest of the product line until November 2011.)

    So try thinking of Android OS releases as being analogous to Apple’s beta releases. It will help make sense of the situation, and it might help you sleep at night.

  • http://emuneee.com Evan

    Android’s purpose for existing… 

    “Android is an open-source software stack for mobile devices, and a corresponding open-source project led by Google. We created Android in response to our own experiences launching mobile apps. We wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure, so that no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other. That’s why we created Android, and made its source code open.”

    http://source.android.com/about/philosophy.html

    It’s very tough to compare Android with iOS, Windows Phone 7, and even desktop PCs that many blogger/journalist continue to do.  

    iOS and Windows Phone 7 (software) are managed ENTIRELY by Apple and Microsoft respectively.  By design, the framework I call “pure” Android, is worked on by Google with source contributions from other parties such as OEMs, carriers, even independent developers.

    Most of what customers actually see are OEMs taking that released source code and tailoring it, more specifically, for the needs of their (OEM) needs.  They build onto Android what they deem necessary for the market they are targeting with a particular device.  They are also trying to differentiate themselves from one another with additional services, apps, etc. This is why you have customized versions of software running on many different handets, some of the popular ones being HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, and Motorola Application Platform.  To be honest, I don’t call handsets running customized software, Android handsets…Android-compatible is a more fitting term.  The only “true” Android handsets are the Nexus line.

    I think where the breakdown is occurring is how manufacturers/Google are communicating how their devices fit within the Android landscape to the end user.  End users expect to get the latest Android updates because they buy an “Android” handset as communicated to them by advertisement, web articles, etc.  What manufacturers really need to be doing is pushing their platform (TouchWiz, Sense, etc.) first, then mention the fact that their handset is Android-compatible (they can install apps from the Android Market, Google service integration, etc.).  From their, communicate their software support timelines.

    The two manufacturers who take this even further are Amazon and B&N.  Both of their high end tablet devices are based on Android, but you would never know.  There customers are also not screaming down Amazon/B&Ns neck demanding updates to Android 4.0 because the message was clear.

    Its probably too late to communicate all of this, but as the author of the article states, more communication with the consumer clearly needs to happen, because people (end users) are lost and frustrated with the entire situation….just my opinion.

  • http://profiles.google.com/blue.windy.star An Nguyen

    So the problem would be solved by either closing Android or opening it all the way? I kept having a feeling that the fragmentation with Android was because Google wanted to call Android open and yet at the same time want some control over it. Can’t have both ways all the time. Or better yet, if they want both ways, as the author suggests, make it open to the manufacturers so that they can customize all they want but give the consumer the choices to update to the new OS even without the customization. If the manufacturers want to customize it, they had to work harder to make the update faster. 
    Even that will not solve the app fragmentation problem but that is a start. Easiest way is a closed OS. If you want both ways, work harder to find a solution Google, don’t make the consumers(me) feeling so frustrated about Android all the time even though I love Android and Google head to toe.

  • His Shadow

    Add to that the fact that even if you have to reformat the OS, you still have a valid supported OS on your system that gets free updates for years with support from the company that sold you the system. What support do you get from jail breakers?

  • James Saldana

    Your missing the point….

    The phone manufactures and carriers are dictating what you can run on your Android devices. Was this ever the case with Windows PCs and Mac? Did HP or Dell every dictate what apps they would allow to run on your computer? No. Sure specs were a limitation but that’s true of any platform.

    You also can’t compare Macs and PCs. They are different platforms and marketed as such. Android is marketed as a single open platform. You expect an app or OS update to work on your device unless it doesn’t meet the minimum specs but you don’t expect to be able to install an Android OS on an iPhone.Android is bring out the worst of mobile with it’s open model because its also open to abuse. Android is forked, fragmented and fracked with malware in it’s app store.

    Android manufactures and carriers benefit from a disposable phone model. They’d love for you to upgrade every year.

    Apple on the other hand benefits from long term users since they get a cut from your moblie phone contract, not just return on the hardware sale.

  • James Saldana

    Yeah, expect you’ll need to root the phone since it will be locked by the carrier. Rooting pretty much knocks out 99% of consumers making the updates worthless.

    The funny thing is, if you want guaranteed updates you pretty much have to buy the Google branded Android phone. But if you go that route, why not buy an iPhone?

  • Anonymous

    Your “cheapskate” is the average smartphone user. That average user isn’t getting screwed because they are happy and content with their chosen phone. The only ones who seemed to be getting screwed are folks like you who act all butthort over Google’s model.

  • http://rilgon.tumblr.com/ Rilgon Arcsinh

    Then maybe the “typical consumer” either needs to learn something about their device or go back to training wheels (i.e. iOS).

  • http://rilgon.tumblr.com/ Rilgon Arcsinh

    Except your analogy is disingenuous to a fault. Rooting an Android phone is like logging into your Administrator account on a Windows PC (“Rooting” coming from “root”, the superuser account in Unix/Linux). Nothing about the rooting process is destructive.

  • http://rilgon.tumblr.com/ Rilgon Arcsinh

    Android is only “user-unfriendly” if you are unwilling to learn.

  • Anonymous

    Seems to me that the majority of Android phones/tabs are built to be “Just good enough to sell” by that I mean minimal standards to hardware for the future of OS updates. Whereas IOS devices are built to BE updated so that there HW WILL be able to take the OS updates for the future. 
    The self interest of MFG’s is to get it out the door and Apple’s and maybe MS’s self interest is to KEEP you in the house. 
    Hence the Wild Wild West Openness of Android in the great outdoors and the more Buttoned Down Civilized Sitting Room of IOS and MS7.

  • Andre Richards

    “To Upgrade Your Software, Buy A New Phone”

    Bingo! Thus, the reason why Android outsells iPhone in pure volume but lags behind on every other consumer metric (web traffic by users, purchases by users, app sales/downloads, etc.) Users have to buy new hardware more often to keep up. That creates the illusion of a higher market share without significantly growing the user base any faster than iOS. Andy Rubin can brag all he wants about activations but it doesn’t tell the whole story. When the day comes that someone can use an Android phone for 3+ years (as I have with my iPhone 3G) and it continues to get timely updates, we won’t have a true comparison of sales and user base growth on these platforms. I suspect Android’s numbers are grossly overinflated for that reason as well as many others.

  • Charlie Whitman

    This article is off base or at best misleading. The main issue with upgrading or running Android on these devices is with the fact that the hardware manufacturers lock the devices and give you access to the software that they want to.

    Apple does the same thing. The only difference with Apple is that every part of the system is designed and controlled by them, so there is no “iOS 6″ in existence that you know about but can’t use on your device because when they make it available is when you’ll know about it. If they say it will be available for this device and not that one, people accept it because they control the whole thing. If there were only one company making Android devices, then you wouldn’t see any difference between them and Apple no matter what might be going on behind the scenes.

    With x86 computers the whole landscape is different. The differences show up in two places.

    First, when you buy an x86 or x86_64 computer, you are the administrator of the computer. If someone releases new hardware for this market, then they release drivers for the current version of Windows and make sure that they hardware works with that version of Windows. The hardware is more standardized in general, and the manufacturers have no motive to break compatibility in any way because they don’t control your access to software. This is the main difference between how Windows on x86 computers works vs. Android on various phones and tablets.

    The other difference is that Google doesn’t release a “consumer” version of Android for people to install themselves. (Of course, the first problem of the controlled hardware gives them little incentive to do so.) The closest things you have to that type of software are things like Cyanogenmod or MIUI. To install these things you generally have to “root” your device (break the hardware maker’s administrative security measures).

    The closest thing to an x86 like situation for Android is the Nook Color (since you don’t really have to do anything to root it) running either the originally installed system or optionally Cyanogenmod or MIUI. When most devices are open enough to allow administrative privileges to users and they all have a standard method of installing a new operating system then you will have a situation more like Windows on x86 hardware (except in the long run it would be more similar to an open source operating system if that were to happen). Until then, the blame is more on the hardware manufacturer/carrier partnership than on Google and Android.

  • Anonymous

    Depends on whether you’ve got a Nexus phone or not.  They typically get updates almost immediately.  The main reason that the Android space is “fragmented” is because the carriers want to (legitmately, so…) vet the software that’s being pushed out- but this is made worse by the tampering each OEM vendor does to things coupled with what the Carrier inflicts on the OEM and therefore the users. 

    It’s actually a lot more like the Windows PC story than most would think.  If you don’t DIY, you’re buying a machine with all the crapware add-ins from the OEMs, which can break updates.  The carriers don’t operate under that model only because it’s problematic due to the crapware they and the OEMs inflicted on users and they insist on it all “just simply works,” so it takes **FOREVER** for them to validate each variant since it’s typically a full system image with the updates, instead of just pushing the modified stuff and validating that that process doesn’t break devices.

    They have to completely re-do the testing process on each image as if it’s a NEW one.  It’s crazy, yes.  But it’s what they’re doing and why it’s fragmented.

    As for buying an iPhone instead…is it really any different there?  You can’t get all sorts of apps unless you’re jailbroken because Apple refuses to allow it in their store.  Sorry, that doesn’t fly very far.

  • Vijay Raj

    Comparing 7 devices to update to updating thousands of devices o_O
    and correct analogy will be Win7 applications not running of Vista or XP,Not what was pointed out so extensively…..
    And open means its Open Source so that any body can look into it and catch what ever mischiefs they are up to,not closed source where even if he is sending u r account passwords u wouldn’t Know.
    As pointed out by the article itself

    “Think that’s a minor issue, phone size? I saw a stranger using an Android phone I’d not seen before two days ago, while I was in a line to buy lunch. I asked about it. The woman told me a bit, including that she liked because it was smaller than the iPhone. Usability, operating system, apps — for her, choice of size was a primary feature.”

    It is a matter of choice and it is good,not like u dont have the choice of even choosing a color,forget the rest.

    Its towards where PC’s r,FREEE…
    If it was upto Apple it would have curbed the PC industry also with its spoon feeded MACS..

     

    Its going to be like this in the future for mobiles,Buy your mobile with hardware specs u like and install any OS. FULL STOPthats the way to go for the CONSUMER,not the apple way where it wants to curb the innovation so that it can reap out hefty amount for each innovation…

  • Justin White

    The last paragraph sums it up pretty well, but in the wrong direction. The prior lists about things that can’t be done on Android were all “blocked” by entities other than Google. Google is just providing a platform (of which certain pieces and capabilities must be maintained to keep compatibility and for the devices to be advertised as “Android”) for the device manufacturers to build upon. There is nothing Google could do to more open the Android platform, because they are not the ones closing things off. The carriers, device manufacturers, and app developers are the ones applying restrictions. 

  • http://twitter.com/bgtheory Brad Geddes ✔

    Danny – I totally agree with most of what you said. In fact, I made that phone to computer comparison a few weeks ago.

    One of the problems is that there’s not really an alternative at the moment. 
    I have verizon. I like their speed and coverage (and hate everything else about them). They have an iPhone; but I’m not a big apple person. I have a Thunderbolt (Andriod), but the phone has been crippled by verizon (especially after their August Android update where text messages go to random people and verizon won’t acknowledge the bug). VZ doesn’t carry a windows phone.

    After living in an Andriod/Verizon world for a year; I’m thinking of going back to a blackberry. If verizon carried a windows phone – I’d try it out. 

    The carriers have perverted ‘open’ so much that there’s no open Andriod (unless you root). There’s just an iPhone alternate. When someone makes a truly open phone – I’ll try it out immediately. 

  • Charlie Whitman

    Most of the people who buy Android phones don’t know and don’t care if it claims to be open. If users cared about the “open” part of Android, then Cyanogenmod would be relevant.

    Also, it’s only as malware infested as you make it, and as battery hogging and privacy destroying as the manufacturer/carrier combination makes it. It’s not much different in user-friendliness to iOS.

    Personally, Android devices in general don’t appeal to me that much, and iOS devices not at all (thanks to the lack of USB host, SD card or similar flash memory, and the inability to sideload apps). I might pick up a Nook Color and put Cyanogenmod on it since that is something more approaching an open hardware and software system, but I’m not the usual user who is willing to settle for a device locked in by Apple or one the usual Android vendors. (My phone is provided by my employer, so it’s whatever they pick, which means Blackberry now but Android shortly.)

  • Jeffrey

    What is the problem with Android 2 vs. Android 4. Does saying 2.3.0 and 4.0 make it sound less fragmented?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this article and the detailed comments / responses. There’s as much confusion here as there at RIM – boy what a mess!

  • Charlie Whitman

    That’s what Openmoko was supposed to be, but it was not available in all parts of the world because of differing cell phone networks. I’m not sure how viable the Openmoko project still is. It doesn’t look very lively. I know a number of people who were involved in it are now involved in the Qi Hardware project, but there are no phones in the works from them at the moment.

    People just have to appreciate that it’s the hardware not being open enough that makes Android not seem very open most of the time.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this enlightening article and the great comments and responses. There is as much confusion here as there is with the folks at RIM – boy what a mess!

  • Anonymous

    ” Does saying 2.3.0 and 4.0 make it sound less fragmented?” What kind of hell hole have I stumbled onto in the internet? People who take seriously the opinion of a man who thinks Android 2.0, 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 can be clubbed as ‘Android 2′.

  • http://twitter.com/WaltFrench Walt French

    Miguel, the 386 was long obsolete as a CPU for PCs when it was discontinued 4 years ago. Google’s self-proclaimed standards are that it support machines that are up to 18 months old and as the article says, are not exactly scoring any goals yet, while competitors are predictable and trustworthy.

    Obviously, people continue to buy Androids nevertheless, so I don’t think Google has much incentive to actually deliver; they can continue to spout whatever marketing slogans they want, it seems, and their business will be unaffected. The only issue is for picky types who expect them to deliver on their promises.

    Maybe customers will all of a sudden take offense to the shoddy practices; then Google will have a problem because they apparently have NO WAY to deliver on their promises. The carriers, who actually sell the phones to customers in the US, did not promise to give upgrades, and the handset manufacturers didn’t pledge any time frame for delivering their tweaked versions.

    I think the biggest failing of the article is that it should have been titled, “Empty promises of ‘open’ by Google” because they made the promise before doing the first thing to deliver.

  • Jeffrey

    You didn’t answer the question. But you don’t have to, because all that matters is that 99.4% of all Android devices are not running the latest OS version.

  • Jeffrey

    That doesn’t make any sense.

  • Anonymous

    Oh really. What matters is 95+% run a version of Android that ensures almost a 100% app compatibility with the 400k apps available.

  • Jeffrey

    Google might disagree with you.

  • حسن البركي
  • Charlie Whitman

    You do realize that such capability is almost completely in control of the manufacturers/carriers and not in Google’s control, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-McMahon/840375044 Craig McMahon

    “It’s as if you owned a Mac but were given no clue from Apple about whether it could run a new version of Mac OS X.

    Actually, it’s not like that, because Apple would never allow such uncertainty.”

    Not at all like how Mac OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard) dropped support for all PowerPC-based Macintosh hardware.

    Apple is really really good at a lot of things (this is being typed on a Mac) but they are not noted for supporting diverse hardware configurations.

  • http://opinadorcompulsivo.blogspot.com Miquel Mayol i Tur

    http://www.change.org/petitions/google-public-drivers-for-android-controladores-pblicos-para-android# Petition for PUBLIC DRIVERS for every Android device. Sign, amend and spread it as you like

  • http://opinadorcompulsivo.blogspot.com Miquel Mayol i Tur

    Yes it is a Google fault and it can be reversed.

    “ http://www.change.org/petitions/google-public-drivers-for-android-controladores-pblicos-para-android#

    Petition for PUBLIC DRIVERS for every Android device. Sign, amend and spread it as you like ”

    Google can ask for PUBLIC DRIVERS to any vendor that want to install whatever version of Android. 

    This way at any android device can be installed whatever public version of Android with public drivers as he/she does with whatever Linux version he/she choose.

    And this PUBLIC DRIVERS can be proprietary ones as ATI Intel or Nvidia blobs for Linux, where you can choose what distro you install or even make your own one.

    This way the vendors distros pre installed will be the most used as any pre installed OS, but, advanced users would improve them, by “coopetition”, making better versions and sharing the improvements with official ones.

    And everybody will be happy and a lot of terminals will have ICS this time, that perhaps is late for actual terminals, but for the future is important.

  • http://twitter.com/tim_richardson Tim Richardson

     It’s true that Windows PC users can upgrade to Windows 7, or the latest version of internet explorer. Many of them don’t, though. I’m not convinced that as many people care about upgrading to the latest Android as you think. I also think that the vast majority of Samsung owners will prefer to wait three months to get a major upgrade which has the endorsement of the people they bought the phone from.
    I guess we’ll see how this goes. But on the evidence, it’s not a big deal.

  • Jim Horn

    You make the ios sound perfect.  How about the things apple chooses not to run which makes some sites just unusable.  In some ways since the iphone is only 1 phone, shouldn’t we be comparing it to just 1 motorola phone or 1 nexus phone or does it’s very market share make it 1 phone against all others?  Isn’t the iphone3 obsolete because if you don’t get a 4 when your plan is up, you are just subsidizing the carriers?  In this case the iphone only has a life of 2 years also.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the iphone is great.  Just not sure of the comparison. 

  • Christopher Jenkins

    There is a bit to much fan-boyism here, Don’t get me wrong I am a massive Android evangelist. But I am an Android Dev, WP7 dev and a Web Dev.
    Android does have the issue of differentiation (not fragmentation). But the advantage of that is that it can push into the market much more cost effectively than iOS/WP7 can. Those differences provide a different way of thinking, and a different business model.

    But what you have to be careful about, the Open’ness that you speak of isn’t necessarily aimed at consumers. You pick quite a few links/quotes from development and not consumer based sources (“For use by anyone” – http://www.android.com/developers/) – thats a development resource.Your suggesting that the lack of updates to users makes it Clopen, the lack of an update to a device does NOT make it closed or clopen, its open because that user if they choose can grab an unofficial version of the latest build for the phone, which thanks to android being open is possible and much easier to do.

    Agreed, there needs to be a better flow of updates to devices, but your making the point that Android isn’t really open because of this, which I can’t disagree with more. 

    I can browse the Android source and go build a custom version of Android, which allows for the Kindle, Nook, Notion.. etc..For your windows analogy, I go to microsoft, I want to build windows with a dell theme, and different UI just for Dell. Microsoft – “Jog on”.

    One of the beauties is that I have access to everything that makes up Android, Partners in the OHA (Open handset alliance) are working towards a better model for Android including open Drivers/Radios etc. (Which you have to remember, radios/drivers are proprietary and owned by the device manufactures/chip manufactures, same again for linux, is open source, nVidia drivers are not, but the drivers are not part of the linux).

    Now as for apps not working on different devices. That is a completely different ball park, GMail is NOT Android, GMail is Google, your asking whats the difference? I put my apps on Android Market Place, it is an Android App owned by me; not part of Android, It’s my app, Google choose which devices partners they want to work with and sell the apps too them, Apple choose who can distribute there devices (and make deals with carriers) same deal.

    Now I’m not saying Android is perfect.. far from it, but it’s further in reach than that of iOS/WP7/Symbian and BBOS.

    Clopen no, almost 100% open maybe. This argument could go either way depending on what you talk about. But in my eye’s potential is much more exciting than the niggles of perfect consumer distribution.

    Cheers,
    Chris

  • Peter Sypek

    Danny, aside from your obvious bias, there is some fundamental problems with this article.

    1. The arguments you are using do not in any way contribute to the point you are trying to make.

    -You have pointed out some things about Android that you think are bad
    (some of which I could argue are actually good), but not a single point
    which would imply that it is in any way closed.  You could have at least
    pointed out that the source code for Honeycomb had not be released
    until ICS came out.

    2. You’re missing the point about where Android’s openness lies and the power that comes with it.

    -The fundamental thing that makes Android open is the fact that it
    allows you to replace core pieces of the OS with third party software. 
    You don’t like the launcher?  Then replace it with one of many
    (extremely customizable) launchers, each of which will transform the
    phone into an entirely different phone.  I think that iPhone’s keyboard
    and auto correct suck.  I think the stock keyboard for ICS is a bit
    better, but still not up to par for my standards.  If I had an iPhone, I would have to
    suck it up and accept the will of Apple.  Fortunately, I don’t and I can
    install Swype on my Android phone, or one of many other keyboards
    available.   What if you didn’t like the dialer?  or the stock camera
    app?  or the stock gallery?  On android you can replace any app with an
    stock app with a default app of your choice, all without rooting or
    hacking of any sort.

    -By being OPEN SOURCE, Android is not only available to low quality manufacturers to put on their devices, BUT it is also available for the open source community to work on it and do amazing things with it.  For most Android devices, there is many ROMs that are WAY better than the stock software the phones come with.  Obviously, that’s not an option for everyone, but it’s there.

    ——–

    On a side note….  Yes, fragmentation exists.  Yes, many Android devices stop getting official updates.  I agree, it is a real problem.  However, functionality wise, ever since Android came out, it has always been one or two steps ahead of iOS.  In my opinion Android 2.3 still provides more useful functionality than iOS 5… so I don’t think it’s as valid of a point as it may seem.

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