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Opinion: What Android needs to do to keep its users happier than Apple's

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  Doron Katz's Photo
Posted Dec 12 2010 11:44 AM

No matter how avid a Droid fanboy one is, and I am not pretending to be, Google have sold their souls to phone manufacturers and network carriers. Today's Android ingredients would include the following:

  • Raw pure open source Google operating system, flavoured with well-intended goodness.
  • Add a cup of Phone manufacturer widgets and 'crapware' to it, such as Samsung's UI and background-threaded memory intensive hogs.
  • Finish off with an AT&T or Optus network-carrier set of widgets and useless apps.

What do you end up with? Something that is far from open source. Sure it is still more open than Apple but it isn't open. It's a relative term. In fact, if Apple decided to one day go open, it could do so with the switch of a button. The mere fact that their applications are separated from the operating system, sitting in their own sandboxes makes it easier to do so.

While I don't advocate Apple's policy not to be able to do more to integrate apps with the operating system, I do indeed support the notion of Google not allowing Motorola or HTC to add any non-removable UI. Any UI they add, should be able to be turned off. I don't mind adding a unique flavour to one's phone but it should not be forced onto. You already get the hardware and physical aesthetics that differentiate one's phone. The next thing, network carriers should only be allowed to add removable apps and non-permanent UI widgets (something like HTML 5 based widgets or ones that can be removed from the Settings panel).

The importance of these two features that I would like to see in a future iteration of Android? Well this would create a layer of separation for Google to be able to update it's operating system and push it onto all phones at the same time. If the phone has the specifications, Google decides when and to whom to push it to. It's in Google's interests that more phones are up to date, leaving Google the ability to make it's money through advertising consistently across all it's user-base.

Google pushing it's updates should not be given to the phone manufacturer or network carrier, as they have a vested interest in making money of handsets and contracts, so they don't want a user to hang on to a phone for too long. This isn't what Google wants, surely. Therefore having this separation layer allows Google to do it's thing and the rest to add their features independently. Without this, your phone will not be future-proof for too long.

The case-and-point we have today is the Nexus One and Nexus S, phones that are purely Google. They get all the updates right away, you don't have to put up with crapware apps or apps that you can't delete yet slow down your phone.

So this is how Google could beat Apple, but for the time being, Apple's integrated ecosystem wins out because the creator dictates to the carriers what can go on, not the carriers. In an ideal world, the user gets to decide, but for the time being, I'd rather the creator than the carrier decide.

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2 Replies

 : Dec 13 2010 06:23 AM
Erratum in the title: it's = it is.
  joelbigham's Photo
Posted Jan 26 2011 06:38 AM

This will ALWAYS be the same issue with open versus closed. Open systems thrive by providing an opportunity for tweakers and developers alike to capitalize as consultants and the like since there is no upfront software cost, and usually no official support channels.

Closed systems thrive by providing the spit and polish (along with support) that you would expect for having to pay good money for something.

In Apple's phone ecosystem alone ... they put up all the money, risk and ideas for a fresh hardware design, operating system, app stores, policies, customer service etc.

In Google's phone-iverse, your assertions above are totally correct. They are only responsible for the OS. They don't control the hardware except in rare cases (Nexus * phones) and even then they're collaborating more than they are dictating.

Fact is, HTC Sense (for example), apart from hardware design, is one of the only differentiating factors HTC has in the Google phone-iverse. We as consumers must demand that the major cell providers and Android handset makers alike, provide us with timely updates to an infant OS that needs all the help it can get.

The real question is, when Android is a "twenty-something", where will Apple's iOS be? Apple has had a significant head start, thanks to its extreme (ly early) innovation in this space in 2007. Will they continue to make such epic leaps or can El Goog catch up?