The Slippery Slope of Android Differentiation

By  |  Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 10:34 am

I know I’ve been piling on Android as of late, but I just can’t ignore comments from Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha. Speaking to the Verge at CES on Wednesday, Jha says that phone makers will continue to skin Google’s operating system with their own interfaces, making the possibility of a purer Android experience seem more remote than ever.

Motorola “has to make money” he says, and “the vast majority of the changes we make to the OS are to meet the requirements that carriers have”. Wait, haven’t we heard this before? On Monday, I wrote that Google no longer has any control over Android, ceding most of it to carriers and it seems, the manufacturer as well.

The problem is that there are just too many Android phones. That makes phones from different manufacturers awfully similar, which makes it hard for any one model to sell well based on sheer distinctiveness. So carriers layer their own user interface tweaks over Android in an attempt to be different.

This strategy isn’t so smart, though. Adding a new layer of customizations to Android only exaggerates the fragmentation of the ecosystem. Yes I understand that most of these tweaks are relatively minor. However with “Android differentiation” accelerating, its only a matter of time before carriers and manufacturers insist on more extreme changes.

Imagine the situation then: You have to worry about the quirks not only from device to device, but from carrier to carrier and platform to platform. That’s a recipe for disaster. Look at some current Android-powered devices like the Nook Tablet — its custom UI is incompatible with some Android apps. That’s just a taste of what could happen with phones.

My BetaNews colleague Joe Wilcox is fond of arguing that Android fragmentation doesn’t matter. I disagree with his premise almost completely, and don’t think he’s taking manufacturer differentiation into account. It’s also an opinion I think is only shared by those with a predisposition for Android, and a dislike for Apple or other stricter platforms.

There’s really a simple solution to this, and it’s for carriers to get off the hamster wheel of device production. Produce far fewer devices, and focus on what’s inside. Differentiate on features and specs, not by throwing a skin on Android itself. I’m willing to bet the side benefit of this will be better phones and far less junk.

Yes, Android fans, its’ wonderful you have such a large selection to choose from. But in the end manufacturers are more interesting in churning out phones for every possible user rather than focus on making a smaller selection of devices that are really, really good. In the end, that’s why not a single Android device has been able to outsell the iPhone 4S, 4, or even the 3GS.

Less is more, my friends.

 
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13 Comments For This Post

  1. The_Heraclitus Says:

    "which makes it hard for any one model to sell well based on sheer distinctiveness."

    Which explains why Samsung ALONE, sells more smart phones than Apple… LOL

  2. Shane Says:

    Yes. But Samsung can only outsell Apple by selling lots and lots of different handsets.

    “that’s why not a single Android device has been able to outsell the iPhone 4S, 4, or even the 3GS.”

  3. RichyS Says:

    And an awful lot of those a dumbphones.

  4. Aaron Martin-Colby Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had two devices with Android on them and have installed my own ROM as quickly as was possible. These custom ROMs are the only thing keeping me from Windows Phone.

  5. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Sorry no. Pls educate yourself before posting.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20111115-7032

    "HELSINKI (Dow Jones)–South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (005930.SE) overtook Finnish handset maker Nokia Corp. (NOK) for the first time as the leading smartphone manufacturer in the third quarter by the number of units sold, industry research firm Gartner said Tuesday."

  6. JohnFen Says:

    “The problem is that there are just too many Android phones.”

    Why is this a problem? Even your example, the Nook, doesn’t seem bad or ominous to me. Just the opposite. They took the software platform, Android, and made something new and different with it. That’s a good thing. That it’s incompatible with various other Android-based devices isn’t important.

    The important thing is customer expectation. If people are buying Nooks thinking that they’ll be able to treat them as if they were like Android-based phones, then it’s Nook’s marketing that is the problem.

    “In the end, that’s why not a single Android device has been able to outsell the iPhone 4S, 4, or even the 3GS.”

    Again, why is this a problem?

    I’m still hearing that the “problem” with Android is that it’s not the same kind of product as iOS. Which is true, but I disagree that it’s a problem. It’s a product that addresses a different market.

  7. secretmanofagent Says:

    The real thing for the carrier to do is get out of the way of innovation.

  8. Szamp Says:

    This 'too many' problem is the magic of competition that keeps the price down for the masses that can't afford upscale brands like Apple. It also creates incentives for people to innovate in the hardware and the software area to make a difference. Not everything has to be like Apple and that's good. Poor people desire smart phones too. One's problem is another's solution.

  9. sittininlab Says:

    As and apple fan boy, even I am getting tired of the "fragmentation issue."

    It seems the complaint is "Andriod is not all it can be because the carriers screw it up, it could be so much more if Google held the reigns a little tighter."

    Yes, iOS is everything it can be because Apple wants it that way, and dictated the terms early on, therefore I know I have the optimized experience on my iPhone.

    But, what if I didn't? What if my phone just worked, and I didn't know how much better I could have it? Would I care Probably not. Most people are happy with tech that just works, and as longs as the hoops aren't too big to jump through, most people solider on with the product they have.

    Furthermore, the readers of Technologizer seem to fall into two camps: those with the sub-optimal, but operational experience and are satisfied, and those with the know-how and the drive to root their phones to install whatever version of Android their hardware will allow, and that give them the optimal Android experience for them, the same way a subgroup of readers have unlocked of jailbroken iPhones in order to optimize their experience.

    So Android is nether completely open, or completely closed, but it seems that those that want to do something to change it, can, those that don't are satisfied, or when the next cycle comes around, they will buy a different phone.

  10. The_Heraclitus Says:

    LOL! Woz prefers 'droid to iPhone http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/01/16/apple-c

  11. Paul Says:

    Actually the article itself says that Woz's primary phone is the iPhone. The only part of Android he prefers is the voice and navigation.

  12. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Not ONLY. Apparently you didn't continue to read the interview…

    Woz said, “I love the beauty of it [iphone]. But I wish it did all the things my Android does, I really do. The people I recommend the iPhone 4S for are the ones who are already in the Mac world, because it’s so compatible, and people who are just scared of computers altogether and don’t want to use them. "

    I agree, iPhone are best for techno-phobes. People who grew up using computers and want better, use a 'droid.

    Ed, where did you run off to?

  13. wall clock Says:

    the readers of Technologizer seem to fall into two camps: those with the sub-optimal, but operational experience and are satisfied, and those with the know-how and the drive to root their phones to install whatever version of Android their hardware will allow, and that give them the optimal Android experience for them, the same way a subgroup of readers have unlocked of jailbroken iPhones in order to optimize their experience.

    So Android is nether completely open, or completely closed, but it seems that those that want to do something to change it, can, those that don't are satisfied, or when the next cycle comes around, they will buy a different phone.