How Google Should Fix Android

by Steve Wildstrom   |   October 10th, 2012

Android logoIt’s time for Google to step up and take charge of the Android platform it has created.

I know this sounds odd. By at least one standard, Android is a runaway success. It is by far the world’s most popular smartphone software standard and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. But in many other ways, the platform is a mess. If Apple’s iOS is the good child, a little too neat and a bit too tightly wound, Android is the child raised by wolves, undisciplined and unpredictable.

Android’s most fervent defenders, from whom I’m sure I will hear shortly, rather like things this way. The great variety of available hardware and the openness of the software to modification are among Android’s top attractions to folks who love tinkering with their devices. But at the same time, the fragmentation is keeping Android from reaching its full potential, both by denying many customers the latest software and by making life difficult for developers.

Ownership lacking. A big problem is that Google owns Android, but fails to take full ownership of it. The software is free for anyone who wants to use it. Authorized users who adhere to some fairly loose standards get important perks, including Google services, access to Google Play, and the use of Android branding. (I’m really not concerned here with other uses, such as the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook.) The freedom given to OEMs yields both innovation and chaos.

Manufacturers are free to choose from a wide variety of processor and graphics combinations, with systems from Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Texas Instruments, Samsung, and most recently Intel in use. The software must also support a wide variety of display types, sizes, and resolution. This prohibits the sort of very tight, super-efficient hardware-software integration that Apple achieves in iOS and that Microsoft, to a somewhat lesser degree, seems to be striving for in Windows Phone.

A bigger problem is the latitude OEMs have to modify the software. Almost all major Android OEMs have provided their own tweaks to the user experience, with only the Google-designated Nexus guaranteeing a “pure” Android experience.

Whether the software modifications required both to support a range of hardware choices and varied user experiences are good or bad, they have enormously complicated Google’s task in keeping the software platform unified. Operating system updates take many months to roll out and a lot of phones are never upgrades from the major OS version they shipped with. This by now familiar table tells the story.

Version Codename API Distribution
1.5 Cupcake 3   0.1%
1.6 Donut 4   0.4%
2.1 Eclair 7   3.4%
2.2 Froyo 8 12.9%
2.3 – 2.3.2 Gingerbread 9   0.3%
2.3.3 – 2.3.7 10 55.5%
3.1 Honeycomb 12   0.4%
3.2 13   1.5%
4.0.3 – 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich 15 23.7%
4.1 Jelly Bean 16   1.8%
Data: Google, October 1, 2012

 

The Moto Mystery. At one point it looked like Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility was a serious bid to take ownership of Android. In fact, there were widespread fears  that Moto’s position as Google’s “house” OEM would give it a tremendous advantage over competitors such as Samsung and HTC.

But far from using Moto to dominate the Android market, Google has not even used it to demonstrate leadership. It has just released new Droid models that run on the superseded Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android. And it committed the cardinal sin of declaring that purchasers of its Atrix phones would not receive a promised upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, leaving them stuck with the ancient Gingerbread.

Buyers of an iPhone or iPad know they will get the latest version of iOS and that it will be updated, up to the limits of the hardware, for at least three years (the one notable exception being the 2 ½-year-old original iPad, which was dropped from iOS 6.0.) Android buyers are likely to get a new device with software that is already obsolete, with possibly a promise of an upgrade that may or may not be honored.

Android’s biggest fans aren’t going to like this, but what Google should do is rein in Android’s freedom in the interests of a more unified platform. On the hardware side, Google doesn’t have to go as far as Apple and maybe not as far as Microsoft, which is limiting Windows Phone 8 OEMs to a single system-on-chip family and has imposed other significant design restrictions.

Google should also put much tighter limits on the ability of manufacturers to modify the basic Android software. It’s not clear that any of the modifications have improved the Android user experience significantly and very clear that they are a major impediment to timely upgrade of existing devices.

Finally, Google should require an enforceable pledge that manufacturers will supply timely operating system updates—say within three months of release—to all devices for a minimum of two years after sale.

The result of tighter limits on manufacturers would mean less choice for consumers. But there will be a payoff in remedying an environment that software developers find difficult, hostile, and a very tough place to make a living. Android today offers devices that are superior, at least in specifications, to the iPhone. But the app experience is definitely worse in terms of both comprehensiveness and quality. Reducing the fragmentation of the platform could alter the landscape for developers, making Android more attractive and improving the experience for users. That’s a tradeoff worth making.

 

 

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Grwisher

    Your advice is sound, but I don’t see what motivation Google has to follow it. IMHO, Google wants a large number of users who use their services and therefore provide advertising income. Whether the user is on Gingerbread or Jelly Bean, it is of no consequence to Google. Their “Wild, Wild, West” environment has been wildly successful in attaining a goal of a large number of users. Why would they change to something that might slow that growth down?

    The other aspect of this is that the fans of Android seem to be delighted with the “Wild, Wild, West” environment. Yesterday, while waiting at a doctors office, I was asked by another patient if that was an iPad that I was using. I said yes and he then proudly proclaimed that he had just purchased an Android tablet. I just as proudly proclaimed that I was all Apple. To this he replied that he would never own an Apple product, citing that he would not be prisoner to such a closed system.

    • FalKirk

      Excellent post. Let me take your points in reverse order:

      “fans of Android seem to be delighted with the “Wild, Wild, West” environment.”

      I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect that only the elite feel that way. I suspect that 99% of Android users don’t even know or care that Android is “open”. But I could be wrong.

      “I don’t see what motivation Google has to follow it.”

      Excellent point. Google got into the Android business in order to defend itself against Microsoft and RIM. After the iPhone came out, they turned their attention to Apple. Yet four years later, two-thirds of their mobile revenue comes from iOS rather than from Android.

      Hmm. I’m going to continue this response in a separate post.

      • W. van Dam

        “Yet four years later, two-thirds of their mobile revenue comes from iOS rather than from Android.”
        Google could have tried to copy the Apple way, but would very likely have failed miserably.

        Knowing how a sleight of hand trick works is not enough to be able to perform it successfully. If you lack the required skills, you’re likely to be better off pulling a rabbit out of a hat or telling jokes, even if that gives you less applause.

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      Of course if you had asked him to explain how he was a “prisoner” of a “closed” system he couldn’t tell you. Any more than he could tell you how Android being “open”, which it mostly isn’t, is a benefit to him.

  • Defendor

    I don’t see this happening, with Google working with Intel to bring x86 to the mix, it is showing that it really has no concern about HW fragmentation. It doesn’t get much more fragmented than supporting a completely different CPU Instruction Set. Here you have to do emulation/conversion to support native ARM modules in some applications.

    But this might also pay off if the next generation Atom processor if/when moving to an out of order architecture gains a significant leg up on ARM processors that puts Intel based phones in a clear performance lead with only Android phones running on Intel.

    Good luck with getting upgrade pledges when Google owned Motorola reneged on it’s own pledge.

    • Nemesys571

      I agree with you . I just want to clarify for other readers that the Atrix was released before Google bought Motorola, so they had no say on the design of the device and its upgrade-ability. I’m holding judgement for a year and see see how the RAZR HD family is treated (even though those was also designed before Google came in, released shortly after). I’m no Google apologist, but I think we haven’t seen their strategy with Moto yet.

      • steve_wildstrom

        I think it’s a bad sign that the new Droid RAZRs are shipping on ICS, not JB.

        • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

          Its pretty obvious that Google has no intention of keeping Motorola manufacturing. They bought Motorola for the patents and it was a bad buy as they are not worth nearly what they thought.

  • FalKirk

    Google built Android on the premise that they could extend their search empire from the desktop down onto phones. Since phones were rapidly outgrowing desktop machines, this seemed like a reasonable premise. However, two unexpected things happened.

    First, mobile has not proven to be nearly effective as desktop in promoting advertising. Ironically, tablets are much more effective at mobile advertising than phones and tablets are where Android is weakest. Why ads are less effective is open to speculation, but it appears that, with ads, screen size really does matter. While ads work on the desktop, they take up far too much screen real estate on a phone. On the desktop they can helpful. On the phone, they are almost always an annoyance.

    Second, apps. I think it was perfectly reasonable for people to think that we were moving away from hardware and towards the cloud. Only it didn’t happen. It turns out that there are strong psychological reasons why people like Apps. For example, we can go to the Facebook web site on our phones and tablets but we prefer to use apps instead. We just do. And apps are antithetical to Google’s advertising model. From their perspective, apps are a black box that data disappears into that they cannot discover with their search engines.

    Who’s making money in mobile right now? While hardware makers and app creators count their profits in the billions, advertisers count their profits in the millions.

    And Google? Numbers are hard to come by, but they’re probably deep, deep in the red. They spent billions creating and supporting Android. They spent 12.5 billion dollars on the dog that is Motorola. And how much profit have they made? Last year they estimated that they’d make 2.5 billion in 2012 from ALL their mobile properties – and two-thirds of that came via iOS.

    Android is the most misunderstood business model of all time (I’m not afraid to use hyperbole in order to make my point). People look at its market share and use words like “winning”, “domination”, “success”. But winning what, dominating what, succeeding at what? The only area where Android excels is market share. But profits is the only area that matters. And when it comes to profits, where does Android stand? Notice that Google always speaks in terms of activations, never in terms of profits from the sale of advertising, content, apps or hardware.

    Will Google get its act together and take firmer control of Android? I doubt it. Google doesn’t seem interested. It doesn’t seem to be in their DNA. And I’m not sure they know exactly what direction they should be taking Android anyhow.

    • http://evildevnull.com/thinktank/index.php?action=collapse;c=14;sa=collapse;d227fb2388ec=9e8bb86861f0686e54bcbaae99929bbd#c14 George Leon

      What Google numbers are hard to come by??? They have a page that is updated regularly to show current fiscal standings reported & prior year audited numbers. The page has been around for years & any Google investor gets regular reports which are public once the numbers are finalized. http://investor.google.com/financial/tables.html

      As of June 2012, Google was up 11% as a company. Motorola is down 19%, which isn’t bad considering the mess they were in when Google acquired them. Google has roughly 86B in assets with over 4B in cashflow after accounting for the -233,000,000 of Moto.

      As for fragmentation, yes that sucks, but I personally like some of the OEM touches. AOSP is ugly to me. I like HTC and their Sense ecosystem. It is rich & elegant looking & their software collaborations & widgets are some of the most useful around.

      • FalKirk

        “What Google numbers are hard to come by???” – George Leon

        The missing numbers are those showing how much in revenue or profit Google has made via Android, including content, app or advertising dollars. So far, Google has been silent on the subject.

        • steve_wildstrom

          I just want to emphasize that Google has no legal obligation to publish that information though they are free to do so. Most companies disclose revenue by major product group, but very few disclose profits. And those profit numbers are always very slippery since GAAP gives considerable leeway in allocating costs among internal units.

      • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

        Obviously they aren’t showing Android revenues and its because they don’t want people to know. If you think down 19% isn’t bad for Motorola then you really know nothing about ….anything.

        • http://evildevnull.com/thinktank/index.php?action=collapse;c=14;sa=collapse;d227fb2388ec=9e8bb86861f0686e54bcbaae99929bbd#c14 George Leon

          YOU obviously know nothing. Considering many analysts predicted Motorola to go belly up in 2009, when they were down nearly 25%

    • rhonin

      In aspect, I question your thoughts (good post btw…)
      Each device is a doorway into the advertising revenue arena AND data that can be used to morph the user advertising arena. This is by user across devices, not device specific. Think of it as Google Now in the advertising space – it delivers targeted advertising without asking.
      Whether the revenue stream per individual is a trickle or a flood, it is still a positive non-stop flow.
      I took a quick look at myself. Advertising on a device gets my attention.
      The majority of my purchases are via pc. That is where my designed security resides.

      • FalKirk

        I often hear this this argument but I never see any evidence of it. Where’s, not just the proof, but even the shadow of proof, that Google is benefiting from this data?

        And what’s the return on investment? Apple is making $300 or so dollars for each iPhone sold. It’s been estimated – and it’s only an estimate – that Google is making $6 per Android phone. Some have it at $2 per Android and $6 per iOS phone sold.

        If Google is making $6 per phone, they have to sell 50 times more phones than Apple does. What kind of business model is that?

        • Nemesys571

          It is a business model where they don’t manufacture hardware to sell for a premium. Good for Apple, they are a hardware company, Google is not.

          • FalKirk

            Yes, but where’s the profit?

        • rhonin

          A business model where the margin on a device is not the target.
          Google is after advertising dollars and to attract that they need data and user penetration. This attracts advertisers. Google’s real money source. Take a look at their profit.

          Apple is looking to copy this via iAd but have had little success.

          Amazon does something similar with Kindle to pull in users and encourage them to shop. Once again, here Kindle is the method, not the margin.

        • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

          Microsoft makes $5 to $8 per Android phone Because Google copied them too. it is entirely possible Microsoft is making more money per Android handset than google.

    • mhikl

      Kirk, are you suggesting that Mr Schmidt made a big mistake when he left Apple’s board of directors and introduced Android systems. Would it have worked out better, profit-wise, had Eric stayed on board and encouraged Apple thereby possibly keeping its major revenue maker happy? Would Steve have been less inclined to keep Apple users safe from Google’s revenue practices?

      • steve_wildstrom

        Schmidt didn’t leave Apple’s board until after Android was introduced. He should have left, or Apple should have kicked him off, much earlier. By the time he finally left, the arrangement was at least skirting the edge of legality as competitors are not allowed to serve on each other’s boards.

        • mhikl

          Thank you for the correction, Steve. I must say that sure makes Schmidt look more ballsy along with problems with ‘scruples’. (I use a more vulgar term at first type.) But theoretically to my previous questions (I am so curious), say Mr Schmidt did not bring out Android and did stay on the Apple board and played his cards right (and honourably), might his company made a heap more money with Apple more on its side or would Steve’s ultimate goal in protecting his customers’ privacy have precluded this scenario. I appreciate your insights.

          • Nemesys571

            Protecting his customers’ privacy or his company’s bank account? Google couldn’t pull any customer info from Maps because the app was developed by Apple using Google’s data sources. Google can’t gather user data from searches done by Siri because Siri’s is putting the query. There never was much of a place for Google in iOS’s system apps. Google is better off simply creating iOS apps like every other developer in the Appstore.

          • mhikl

            @nemesys571:disqus Nemesys, (cool, I just got it) I think we share some of the same concerns. Microsoft was far too powerful and did in so many of its friends and competitors to the detriment of technology at the time. I would not want Apple or any one company owning any roost to so much power. Such usually leads to lazy design and poor records to updates, though Apple’s ruling of the media player world didn’t seem to stop them from innovating, or did it? I wish I had all the ideas, but I sure don’t. Did Apple innovate the media player only until it had squashed all contenders, i.e., MS Zune- which by many accounts was a superior item? One usual excuse is that it morphed into the iPhone, but I still have my suspicions.

            Fair, honest and genuine innovation by many is what we really need. Everyone should have to sweat a little.

            On the Steve and bank comment: Steve was not into personal wealth, his life style attests to this. However, he wanted Apple to succeed and after the beating it took from Microsoft (as did others suffer, as I noted) he may have seemed to come off as a strong arm. However, that he was dead earnest about his customer’s service and experience, that is a difficult fact to argue against.

          • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

            Not accurate.
            Apple wrote the front end to google maps and google collected data just like they did from google maps on Android.
            Siri sends queries to multiple sources of data.

      • Nemesys571

        And be beholden to Steve’s whims? Had Google not created Android and depended on Apple, Apple would have 98% of the smartphone market. At any point Apple decides to, say, create their own maps to better control the experience, then they buy Wolfram Alpha and start using Google less and less to Siri queries, and where does Google go? how do they pray that market share from Apple starting from scratch? Can you imagine Android 1.5 competing iOS 6? As a massive technology corporation looking to trump Microsoft, Google had no alternative but to create their own ecosystem even if that meant upsetting their close partner Apple. No of course the big rival is Apple, Microsoft taking a far second position (at least so far).

        • FalKirk

          This argument doesn’t hold water. Google did everything possible to compete with Apple and it’s taken Apple five years to replace their map product and they still use Google as their default search engine.

          PLUS, two-thirds of Google’s mobile income comes from iOS. How has Android made Google less dependent on Apple?

        • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

          Its working out well for Google so far since they are collecting more revenues from iOS devices than Android devices.
          They could have gone into mobile with slavishly copying iOS. Look at the first version of Android before iOS came out. Looked like a combination of Blackberry and Windows mobile. Then the iPhone came out and all of sudden it looked like the iPhone.

      • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

        Schmidt is a loser. He is in large part responsible for the Android debacle which is why his role has been reduced to talking head. he isn’t even good at that though since most of what he says is idiotic.

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      Agree except for two things.
      Google did not create Android they bought it.
      Android hardware makers are not making money they are losing it hand over fist. Except for Samsung which won’t tell anyone how much they make because the amount is so low.

  • Rich

    Steve, has Google used the acquisition of Motorola Mobility to do anything?

  • Rich

    Steve, has Google used the acquisition of Motorola Mobility to do anything?

    • Rich

      Sorry, the Website didn’t display my question the first time so I asked again.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Lose money. Seriously, the Moto products that have come out since the acquisition seem to be exactly what Moto would have done on their own, decent but uninspired phones. The most telling thing is that they are shipping the new Droid RAZRs with ICS, not Jelly Bean.

      • Nemesys571

        I would hold judgement on that until at least mid-2013

        • FalKirk

          Agreed.

  • Geoff

    Honestly, this is why the rumours about Google’s new Nexus initiative is so appealing. They can create a totally open operating system with the Android brand and then have a tighter controlled environment with the Nexus brand. Taking a step back, the rumour is that Google is going to allow any manufacturer to create a Nexus branded machine (phone, tablet, etc) as long as they follow a specific set of restrictions (most importantly that it will have to run stock Android and be updated in a timely manner). This would be great for consumers, since you’d get variety and still be confident that your phone will get the latest updates. Then again, if you really don’t care about updates then you have that option available to you as well. As for developers, well, it may help a bit but it can also just mean that there are more devices that your app needs to be tested on.

    • rhonin

      I’ve also run into a number of users that like a specific OEM skin and won’t consider an alternative without it.

    • FalKirk

      “… this is why the rumours about Google’s new Nexus initiative is so appealing.” – Geoff

      They can’t have it both ways, Geoff. They can’t take the advantages of open (manufacturing, distribution, variety) and then put out an integrated product themselves.

      • Dan

        Why not? Is there a rule written some where?

        • FalKirk

          “Is there a rule written some where?” – Dan

          Yes. You can’t successfully license a product and also create a product that competes with your licensees. You can’t create an open business model that encourages rapid adoption, manufacturing, distribution and dissemination and they attack that very same model by creating an integrated product that has the opposite goals and the opposite business structures.

          You can’t follow two opposing business strategies at once. It’s just common sense.

  • rhonin

    Once again, the assumption is set forth that Android must adhere to the design standards set forth by Apple. Why? I’ll consider the validity of your point if you can tell me / show me what Google’s end game or vision for Android is.
    The only drawback I see at the moment is the reluctance of Carriers to push testing. Yes it costs money, slows down the adoption of a new handset, minimizes their ability to add crapware and other difficulties. Design a set of standardized tests that can be executed by the OEM. Take the Carrier out of the upgrade equation.

    • FalKirk

      “I’ll consider the validity of your point if you can tell me / show me what Google’s end game or vision for Android is.” – Rhonin

      That’s a great question, Rhonin. What is Google’s end game or vision for Android?

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      Strawman. Nobody said that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Harwell/1350875539 Scott Harwell

    I think tooo much is made of fragmentation. Gingerbread is actually a fun version of android to use and my friends that are still on it are surprisingly happy with it. To the basic end user, this just isn’t a big deal.

    • FalKirk

      “I think tooo much is made of fragmentation.” – Scott Harwell

      Low retention and poor satisfaction number would tend to disagree.

      • derekmorr

        What is your source for these claims?

        • FalKirk

          I typed in “Android retention” and “Android satisfaction” and these were the first two stories that appeared. Try it for yourself if you wish to verify.

          - “iOS App Retention Crushing Android”, PCmag, Jun 27, 2012- “iPhone satisfaction at 75%; closest competitor at 47%”, The Loop, Jan 9, 2012

          • W. van Dam

            Google search results are somewhat tailored to your browsing/search history, are they not? It may warrant keeping in mind the kind of results you get from a search may be biased because of this tailoring.

          • FalKirk

            There have been literally hundreds of surveys done in the past four years and Android has has never had good satisfaction or retention numbers in any of them. Please feel free to perform your own searches, if you wish.

          • W. van Dam

            Don’t worry. I believed you in your first post. It’s just that your approach reminded me of an elusive issue we encountered when colleagues had different results with database queries due to being in different countries. With hundreds of agreeing surveys there is of course no point in caring about minor influences on search results.

    • W. van Dam

      The huge fragmentation on the Android platform can be a significant issue for app developers. Modifications made by manufacturers and providers can have a serious impact on how Android OS performs.

      Sometimes the stuff that gets added by manufacturers and/or providers contains bugs that prevent an app from working correctly, no matter what the developer would do.

      It is also quite impossible for developers to support all variations that exist today because there are literally hundreds of them, if not more. With Gingerbread you should be fine. It’s use is widespread and support is mature. Less popular versions of Android are likely to be less fortunate.

  • mhikl

    What if Google were to plant some booby-traps in the Android OS? Take me “thither” and A-OS goes kaboom! Something like this could have happened when Amazon bumped Goole off the revenue tree. I think it would be fair. But as an Apple nut, I am glad it hasn’t.

    • Nemesys571

      This made no sense whatsoever.

  • Andrew

    How much of the fragmentation of Android OS versions is due to the carriers and hardware manufacturers? It doesn’t seem as if there’s much of an incentive for the device manufacturers to create an easily upgradeable phone when both the hardware manufacturers and carriers want you to re-up with a new contract, and an accompanying new phone, every two years. It seems as if it wouldn’t matter to the carriers or manufacturers if the products they’re selling are upgradeable or running an old version of the OS, as to them a sale is a sale.

    • steve_wildstrom

      All of it. Carriers have actually gotten better as speeding their acceptance testing. OEMs, who have to do the work of adapting new OS version to their devices, are the big problem.

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      It is all due to Google because they allow it from the carriers and handset makers. Apple doesn’t allow it. Apple sells devices. Google sells ads by monetizing your personal data.

  • Ahmad Farihan

    The line of thoughts behind this article clearly stuck in the consumer driven economy. Apple is the poster child of this type of economy while Android is the anointed child of knowledge based economy. Rather than advising Google to be more like Apple read: going backwards (master-slave relationship), a more meaningful advise would be for the members of Open Handset Alliance and the public at large to equally participate and contribute to ensure all devices not only compatible to one another but also no vendor-locking is allowed no matter how subtle it is done. Yes, currently Google have the biggest say on Android. It should not be the case anymore. This is the best advice. You’ll understand what I am saying if you realize 2 points:
    1. In 30 years time, we will build our own phone at home. (Replaceable Parts 2.0)
    2. 1969 has long gone.
    Let’s go forward.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Does OHA really have an existence separate from Google at this point? I agree that they could play an interesting role. I just don’t see any evidence of them doing it.

      • Ahmad Farihan

        You should advise them to do so.

        • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

          That advice and $20 will get you on the bus across a mid-sized city.

          Everybody else pays $1.

          Apple wins because the tiny bits of customer-focused (as opposed to consumer-focused) orientation that they have forgotten are more than Google and the OHA (to the degree that those aren’t synonymous) will ever know. Android supporters fight the Linux wars of ten years ago by jumping up and down and shouting “It’s open! Everybody should participate!” and wondering why Joe and Jane Average don’t.

          Or to use a comparison that’s also been applied on the desktop: One gives you the ability to build things, learn, and eventually get what you started out to do, done. The other enables you to do what you set out to as quickly and effectively as possible, allowing you to do other things with your life.

          Which would most people rather have? As a previous poster noted, people buy Android because it’s cheap. There are Android devices out there that compare quite competitively to an iPhone 4S — but they cost as much as an iPhone 5. People buy high-end Android as often as not because they simply want a phone from the first or second shop they walk into, and that first shop is sold out of iPhones. That’s how I got a Galaxy Note, with which I am absolutely delighted. But the Note is really a companion device to a phone in much the same way an iPad is; it’s not what you want for a day-to-day phone. Here in this company town called Singapore, the S III costs as much or more than the iPhone 5; which do you think someone who’s been badly burnt by, say, an HTC Explorer is going to choose?

          If Android is going to survive, let alone compete long-term, it’s going to need to do what Linux never could: stop ignoring real-world mass psychology and behaviour. Get some standards with teeth, build a successor to the OHA that will beat any non-complying manufacturers silly, and be very clear on what market you’re really in. Otherwise, ten years from now, you can expect the OHA to be mentioned with the same reverence and customer awareness as, say, SCO.

    • FalKirk

      “Android is the anointed child of knowledge based economy”

      I hope not else the knowledge based economy is doomed.

  • derekmorr

    *sigh* It seems we have to endure a spate of these “zomg! fragmentation!” articles with every new release of Android. In reality, the situation is a little bit more complicated than the author admits.

    Most popular devices get upgraded to the new version. It just takes time. The HTC One S, X, and XL, and the Samsung Galaxy S III are due to get Jellybean later this month. I’m happy to send a more detailed list if you like.

    Every ARM SoC is different and unlike x86, there aren’t standards for device detection, initialization, etc. On x86, a single OS image can boot on almost device. This is emphatically not the case for ARM Linux. Every device model has a custom kernel made specifically for it. In effect, Android has to be ported to each new device. And that’s before you factor in changes made to the upper-layer frameworks and apps. So it’s just not possible to update every model of Android device on day one. Given the work involved, it’s not worth it to update older less popular devices.

    The CyanogenMod team gave a good talk about how they support 100+ devices. http://youtu.be/puSdhvC0ExY?hd=1&t=19m55s

    Fortunately, there are lots of efforts underway to addresses these issues:

    * The PDK, announced at Google IO last summer, gives OEMs early access to the source. That’s one of the biggest problems.

    * Android runs on a fork of the Linux kernel. Most of its patches have been merged back into mainline in 3.3 – https://lwn.net/Articles/472984/, except for power management, which went into 3.5 – http://kernelnewbies.org/Linux_3.5#head-e04ea6fe9005ea057124123d7834624cd445e124

    * The Linux ARM tree has undergone significant cleanup, and there’s been about two years of work done to let a single kernel image boot on multiple devices – http://lwn.net/Articles/496400/. The first portion of this work was just merged into the 3.7 kernel tree this week – http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTE5ODI.

    * Finally, OEMs have largely stopped making so many variations of their devices, reducing the number of custom Android ports they have to support. For example, Samsung used to have many region- and carrier-specific versions of the Galaxy S and S II. The S III only has a handful of versions (mainly CDMA, GSM, and a custom version for Korea). Likewise, HTC drastically simplified their product like with the One and Desire series.

    But the article also ignores consumer pressure. Customers notice when their carrier or OEM doesn’t update their device, and they definitely take that into account when they buy their next device.

    • FalKirk

      “the article also ignores consumer pressure”

      You mean like the pressure put on Motorola who just reneged on their upgrade promise? You put far too much faith in public pressure. The public is far more likely to leave the platform than they are to stick around and make the platform better.

      • derekmorr

        Motorola’s bad upgrade track record is definitely a factor in their poor performace in recent quarters.

        • FalKirk

          Agreed. I also think that Android’s overall inability to rapidly update their software for existing owners has led to some user dissatisfaction. How much and to what degree is unknown (at least to me).

          • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

            I think your average Android user has no idea there are new versions out. They sell because they are cheap.

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      Puh-lease. Thats a lot of writing for such lame excuses.

  • Tom

    Working in the wireless industry I can’t tell you how many times I have to deal with an over bloated LG , HTC Samsung thats acting buggy and crashing. We all know its the “tweaks” that are done to make it unique which is why these devices are crashing. So they get replaced, over and over. again. To the the point that by the time their contract is over they don’t want anything to do with Android anymore! they want that reliable Apple product. So they wait in-line, scoop up all the free Iphone 4 and never look back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1195911909 Myles Crouther

    wouldn’t it be easier to pull a microsoft and stop supporting older platforms. Sure make all core apps supported on Gingerbread and up. But start the clock. If carriers and manufacturers don’t have any encouragement to push out updates, it won’t happen. Have you ever asked someone to go out of their way to do something for you with nothing to gain? It doesn’t generally happen, sure you’ll bump into the occasional nice people that will help you out but it’s not common.

  • Tony Perez

    “The result of tighter limits on manufacturers would mean less choice for consumers.”
    Yes, however, I’d rather have the choice of 20 high-quality handsets with current versions of the Android OS over having a marketplace of 100 handsets with a mishmash of OS versions. It would be tighter but not limited to only one handset option.

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      Agree and that is a big part of Motorola’s problem. Too many versions many of which don’t sell but take up R&D, manufacturing, and support costs. I used to work at Motorola btw.

  • CPA01

    Jesus. 55.8% are still on Gingerbread?

    Is there a way that Google can give a backdoor JB update option to anyone who wants it?

    • steve_wildstrom

      No, and that’s just the problem. The OS has to be customized to the device and it is the OEM’s responsibility to do that. If the OEM has customized theUI in any way, they are also responsible for getting those UI elements into the new code. If you have rooted your phone and are comfortable installing your own firmware, folks like the Cyanogen Project do the code for a lot of handsets, but that is no way a mass market solution.

      • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

        OEM AND carrier.

  • NoNeedForMonkeys

    For good or bad, most of the “Android experience” is controlled by the US carriers. the carriers decide when the updates roll out. Bloggers and Media are quick to criticize Google for not taking totalitarian rule over everything known as android. All I can figure is that it is both good for site hits and fodder for ad revenue to stoke up the fire of android upgrade anxiety. I counter this upgrade anxiety every day by talking to android owners I see. I ask what version of Android they are running and I get two distinct families of response:

    1. They have no idea what version of Android it has and do not care as long as it works.

    2. They have seen articles or read somewhere that they do not have the latest version of Android and they are dismayed by this.

    To the dismayed I ask a simple follow on question. What apps or functions do not work on your device today? Not a single person on Gingerbread could name a single app or feature that does not run properly on their device.

    • steve_wildstrom

      The carriers are much less of a problem than they used to be. They still delay rollouts for acceptance testing, but the real problem is that the OEMs aren’t providing the upgrades..

      The problem with fragmentation isn’t that users are stuck with old software; they literally don’t know what they are missing. The real issue is the problem. Creates for developers, who have to make sure their apps comply with a wide range of APIs as well as card display specs. This forces least common denomination app design rather than the device optimization they can do on iOS or, t a slightly lesser extent, on Windows Phone.

      • NoNeedForMonkeys

        Thank you for your response. I do disagree. I believe that the carriers hold back updates on legacy devices to incentivize their current top tier offerings. The carriers do not seem to be interested in updates on a specific device until there is either sufficient public demand or stagnated revenue from the carrier embedded apps. Basically they are still making enough revenue growth from devices running older versions of Android to not really care. To keep up to date they would have to spend more resources then they do now.
        As I understand the OS Upgrade cycle:
        1. Google releases source to signed OEM partners.
        2. OEM hardware vendors release legacy device builds as time permits (usually second or third priority to release, as the focus is always on the next device to get it released), Months go by before OEMs finally release builds to the carriers.
        3. Carriers sit on the legacy device upgrade to “verify that the embedded revenue apps are functioning properly”. Months go by.
        4. Carriers are not happy with some element of functionality and request another build from the OEM.
        5. Carriers and OEM’s pass the buck back and forth for a few more months.

        We the customers finally get the update from the carrier, through the carrier’s OTA service. Now a better part of a year has gone by, and Google starts the cycle all over again by releasing yet another turn of Android.

        One day I realized that I do not care about an upgrade unless it adds some killer app or feature. ICS really did not offer any real boost over Gingerbread to my mobile aside from Google wallet and a buggy chrome app (beta), Today Jellybean meets that requirement for me, I want it on my legacy device to pick up the same great google services that are running on my Nexus 7 tablet.

      • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

        I still know people at Motorola and they would tell you that is incorrect. Verizon holds them back especially.

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      Again with this…Apple does it, why can’t Google? Because they don’t care about the user experience thats why.

      • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

        ICS and JB running on HIGH-END hardware are very comparable to iOS on an iPhone 4/4S/5. The problem is that a huge part of the sales (and profit) for the manufacturers is from cheap junk that was obsolete before it was designed, sold to people who’d never buy a car or an insurance policy knowing as little about them as they know about the phones they’re buying. “I can make calls and send and receive texts.” Sure, and I could do that on a Nokia 3100 with 350 KB of RAM in 2003. It’s close enough to ten years later, folks; Moore’s Law has to kick in sometime. Even the PoS HTC Explorer has over a thousand times more usable RAM; it’s just too bad that the OS and apps want about double that.

        The single smartest thing Apple ever did with the iPhone was not to bring out an “iPhone lite”. You want a current iPhone? You’ll buy one with the hardware resources needed to run the next three or four versions of the operating system, along with all the apps you care for. You want something at a lower price? Buy a (brand new) iPhone that’s a generation or two behind current, with one OS upgrade lopped off the capability going forward. You’re not going to get into an issue like with many *current models* of Android, that don’t have the resources to run what they’ve got competently, let alone be updated. I saw a phone in a shop last weekend that was running FroYo. And, at S$129 (US$105) without contract, it was selling, even though it was little different, qualitatively, from that Nokia candy-bar of old.

        I don’t mind paying for what I get, as long as I get what I pay for. Companies that figure that out have insane things happen to them — like having their share price increase a hundredfold in 20 years, not accounting for two 2:1 stock splits.

  • Dave Thornton

    Smartphones have been mainstream for about a decade. Isn’t it time to get out of the chaos phase? Considering the importance of smartphones in life today, I will take the “good child” everytime!

  • jamieson

    why even compare it to ios?, how many devices run ios compared to android? same with microsoft and mac. if you want a fluid ui go for mac since it only runs on limited and approved hardware, while customizable options and functions offered on windows/android, technology is always improving so companies may not honor updates as they are working on newer phones but the demand is still there and outside support,google shouldnt have hardware restrictions or impose release dates for other manufacturers since its a free os it should stand like linux, hardware will eventually reach equilibrium. i enjoy learning and playing with androids file system, at the end of the day open source and mass storage device is the reason i chose android,convenience over centralization

    • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

      A comparison between windows and Android is not valid. You can’t run any version of Android on any handset either. Including ROM’s.
      Most people don’t want to do this anyway. They just want a smartphone that works.

  • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

    Numbers of users who buy Android because its cheap mean nothing, Worse than nothing if the only Android manufacturer making money is Samsung and Samsung won’t tell anyone ho much they make from Android because they make very little. How long are HTC and others going to keep making devices they lose money on? HTC already threw in the towel on tablets.
    The only way Google could get anyone to buy an Android tablet, the Nexus 7, is to sell it for cost. Great business model Google. They can keep losing money on Android because of search revenues but their partners can’t.
    Google makes more money from Google services on iOS devices than on Android devices. How pathetic is that?

  • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

    You just told us you don’t know anything about iOS.