Android has come a long way in the past four years. From their initial release that even lacked a pastry name and where a software keyboard wasn’t even included, to the powerhouse we’ve come to love with Ice Cream Sandwich. Times have definitely changed, and one of the reasons why Android is one of my platforms of choice is specifically because of how fast they’ve changed.
Some have compared Android to the Windows Mobile of our time, but I tend to disagree. It is the platform that any OEM can customize to their taste, but the difference between Android’s first iteration and Ice Cream Sandwich is simply night and day. Windows Mobile, though evolved in each of the versions we saw, never really changed much when compared to the original Pocket PC 2000 OS we saw on the same year it was named. Android is all about change, and this is something we all need to accept, and that includes OEMs.
See, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is a different animal. Back in the dark ages of Cup Cake, Android was a very limited operating system, and it made sense for each OEM to compensate for its shortcomings along with adding their own personal touch to the OS. Jelly Bean no longer needs any help, being in every way faster and even more elegant than some of the OEM customizations in the market. I’m one of the people that stayed away from Android until they released Gingerbread, simply because I found the whole aspect of the OS as archaic. Even then, I’d refuse to use anything that didn’t include my favorite launchers, like HTC Sense for example. The launcher was what turned a good idea, into a beautiful execution with Android, but that was before version 4.0
The problem with launchers and customizations is speed in literally every way. When it comes to speed in deployment, Ice Cream Sandwich was launched almost 8 months ago, an even newer version of Android is already being deployed to the current Nexus line-up, and only 10% of the rest of the Android install base has adopted last year’s software. That’s right, just 10%. The differences between Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich are so big, that it’s expected for customers to feel let down. Are there any hardware differences between the Nexus S and the Original Galaxy S? You and I know there aren’t any, and still, Galaxy S users that are still stuck on a 2-year contract can’t move beyond Gingerbread.
When it comes to speed in execution, custom skins stopped making sense with Ice Cream Sandwich. Before it was launched, it made a lot of sense for people to want more. Things have changed now, and with Ice Cream Sandwich being faster and superior to any OEM skin in the market, is there really a point to their existence? I do praise solutions like HTC Sense, but I find it ironic that my Galaxy Nexus performs faster with Ice Cream Sandwich and a smaller processor, than the One X can handle it’s own skin on a Quad-core Tegra 3. I honestly wish it was as easy as having the choice to get rid of Sense with a simple button, just like I could get rid of it on Windows Mobile 6.5, but that’s not yet the case.
So if speed in deployment and execution are this year’s new problems with Android, why not leave Jelly Bean alone? If none of the skins will reach the market fast enough, or be any better than Jelly bean, why make customers wait? Here are some ideas of what we think should be done:
1. Give users an early start
I’d become a loyal HTC customer from today and going forward if they made the bold move of giving me the option to run stock Jelly Bean today on my One X. I’d definitely miss my way around HTC Sense, but it would be awesome if the openness of Android was given to the customer and not the OEM. If my phone is capable of running the latest version of Android, I shouldn’t be forced to remain in the dark ages.
OEMs could offer a quick port that allows you access to the upgrade on launch day, and then they could send you a software update with their customizations once they’re ready. OEMs could even choose to not offer that software update and no longer invest in supporting a specific model because of its age, but that choice wouldn’t affect the customer. For those who disagree with me and feel that locking these upgrades is what keeps customers coming back to buy new phones, ask iPhone users why they still keep making crazy lines to buy the next device that’s launched. A customer becomes loyal when he or she believes that their needs are being attended. Forcing people to buy a new phone to get the latest features just makes them jump ship because they lost trust in your brand.
2. Give users a choice
One of the things I miss the most about Windows Mobile is being able to turn customizations off. I don’t know about you, but I have a love or hate relationship with OEM customizations. For example, I love the Galaxy S III when it comes to design, features, and simply the whole package that you get with one, but I decided to keep my Galaxy Nexus simply because I don’t like TouchWIZ. I don’t care how cool that Nature UX looks or feels, one of my main uses for a smartphone is email, and I just can’t understand why Samsung continues to push a black-on-white skin for their email app. Have any of you ever seen a black piece of paper used as a standard for reading text? I understand their desire to save power with their AMOLED technology using black pixels as much as possible, but if they gave me a choice, I’d prefer to kill my battery and get a white screen with black text.
OEMs should stop making a closed ecosystem out of an open source project, and that means that users should have a choice as to what system they’ll use on the phone they bought.
Have any of you heard of Microsoft Signature? You pay for a computer, but you get it with the stock Microsoft experience that doesn’t have any bloat ware and runs as smooth as it was intended to run. OEMs are hardware companies, and that’s where they should push. Android is no longer broken, so they should stop trying to fix it. I’m sure that a lot of power-users would love a solution where they can buy an HTC phone with the option for a stock Jelly Bean experience. I sometimes wonder if the rumors of more than one Nexus device this fall have to do with a similar project that allows customers to choose their version of Android when they buy, and if Google hadn’t thought about this, they should.
The Bottom Line
It’s understandable that OEMs want to enhance the experience with some personal touches of their own. Sadly the word “enhance” is very clear in its definition, which is to increase or improve in value, quality, desirability or attractiveness. As it stands, none of these OEM “enhancements” have reached that ideal as of Android 4.0. Instead, they either make your device slower, or they make you wait for their upgrades whenever you’re lucky enough to get one.
I decided over a year ago that a Nexus device is the way to go. Jelly Bean is the answer to what many of us have been waiting for, and it isn’t fair that I don’t have to wait for it, and most of you do. With the Galaxy Nexus dropping its price to just $350 at the Google Play store, it’s even more tempting to go the Google route. I just wish Google would be smarter about their strategy and instead of selling you a Google phone that delivers on the ideal, they figured out a way to make upgrades for their Google-made OS to be OEM and carrier independent.
Whatever your choice is for your next smartphone, our advice is that you stick with the company that tweaks Android the least, since Android is now good enough as it is. Be sure to share your thoughts about this in the comments down bellow.