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.