Last week’s column about my frustration with the lightning-fast pace of development of Android, both on the hardware and software fronts, seemed to strike a chord with many of you, and I got a lot of great feedback. The common theme was that a lot of faithful Android users feel the same way I do. I do feel like I need to clarify my sentiments a little. My beef isn’t so much with Google and their hyper-active OS update schedule, as it is with the hardware manufacturers and the carriers. After all, Google is trying to claw its way to the top of the OS heap, and do it in a hurry by adding great new features that make Android more functional. It’s the manufacturers and carriers that seem to be too busy catering to new customers and upgraders than supporting those who’ve already taken the plunge and locked themselves into that carrier contract.
Between the hardware manufacturers and the wireless carriers, I’m not sure which is in the driver’s seat of the of the hardware spec one-upsmanship battle royale. Further, I’m not sure it’s fair to try to pin the ‘blame’ (my word, since it’s my rant) on either group, as the carriers are obviously battling to keep current customers while trying to steal new customers away from competitors. Manufacturers have to continually research and develop new technologies and processes to keep the carriers in constant supply of the newest and best hardware to support the carrier’s aforementioned goals.
So with all of that said, I’ve got to say that I truly do understand that none of these parties have the luxury of sitting back on their heels, because if they do, they’ll be chewed-up and spit-out. To see a couple of prime examples of what complacency will do to a tech company, look no further than to Palm and Microsoft, and the historical dominance of both company’s legacy mobile operating systems. Both companies failed to recognize the need to modernize and keep pace with Apple and Google’s upstart mobile operating systems.
Speaking of Apple, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, as a consumer who desires a measure of predictable longevity in my gadgets, I really envy those who own iPhones if for no other reason than I would know when the next iteration of the hardware and software cycle will hit and could plan my emotional roller coaster (and my purchases) accordingly.
I wonder what a world would look like in which hardware manufacturers spent all of their research and development dollars developing just one or two great pieces of smartphone hardware each year for each mobile OS and let the chips fall where they may. While this model has worked very, very well for Apple, and historically well for Research in Motion, not many other companies have been able to combine and leverage that same kind of integrated hardware and software brand loyalty.
As you all can see, I’m pretty adept at identifying what I perceive as problems for consumers, and I’m pretty sure you all have thought pretty hard about these issues as well. I most definitely don’t have any viable solutions. The truth is, while the mobile tech world is NOT a democracy, you as consumers DO get a vote. You vote with each dollar that you spend. While you have to make purchases within the framework provided by the carriers, with contracts and subsidies and the like, you need to make sure you consider your experience with the Android hardware and software development cycle over the past 12-18 months and remember how you feel right now. You’ll probably feel the same way after six or eight months with your next new phone, as well.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is to get a calculator and a pad of paper and map out the cost differences for service plans across all the wireless carriers that meet your service criteria (re-evaluate this too while you are at it), as well as the hardware price of a one-year vs. two-year contract. The key to all of this is that you are going to have to put a dollar-value on the techno-lust that you are feeling right now, as you will feel like this again and you will not be able to predict what kind of hardware is going to be available half-way through your next contract. The rest is up to you.
Alright, I may have gotten a bit too philosophical with you all, but I really want to hear your ideas about how to prevent this “stuck” feeling the next time around. I know lots of you have suggested that you’re sticking with T-Mobile or Sprint because their contracts give you an upgrade discount after 12 months or something, but what if an unbelievably amazing device lands on another carrier and you are stuck? My point is, think outside the box and let me know in the comments what ideas you’ve come up with. We may not be able to effect any real change in the marketplace, but (a) misery loves company, and (b) if we don’t start talking more openly about this at sites like PhoneDog.com, I’m not sure who will.