I can remember back when I bought my BlackBerry Curve 8330. I purchased it when it first came out and I carried it for over two years without ever wanting another phone. That is, until the Tour hit the shelves. I can't begin to imagine keeping a phone for more than three or four months now, much less two years. According to CNN, we have “Android's Law” to thank for this.
What is Android's Law, you ask? It goes a little something like this:
“...if you picked up the Motorola (MMI) Droid when it went on sale in November 2009, you had the best Android device on the market. But then the twice-as-fast Nexus One went on sale in January 2010. Then the HTC Droid Incredible hit the market in April. Then in June, the Evo 4G put the Droid Incredible to shame. The Samsung Galaxy S came out later that month. Then the Nexus S ... You get the point.”
This is still ongoing and I anticipate it will get worse before it gets better. Look at all of the announcements from CES. That was only a portion of the phones we will see this year, and many of them aim to declare nothing more than the obsolescence of the smartphones from 2010. Sporting dual-core processors and large, powerful displays, these recent announcements make even my favorite phone to date – a phone that is still new, perfectly capable, and blazing fast – seem tarnished and old.
HTC claims that the average shelf life of smartphones used to be an estimated three years. Now, they estimate the current average time phones stay on the market is a mere six to nine months, a substantial difference. Essentially, we're getting what we asked for – bigger, better, faster phones. But it isn't exactly how we expected it. HTC explains that “consumers want more power and faster phones. With increased competition, there's a more pressing reason for shorter lifecycles.”
Why is Android the cause for these short lifecycles? Android is free; manufacturers no longer have to build their own software. Thanks to Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, the hardware can be produced in far less time than before, too. Purchase ready-made components; design and manufacture the remaining hardware; install Android and slap on a custom interface of choice; and manufacturers could have themselves the next Android flagship headed to shelves in a matter of months, versus a year or more.
Aside from all the negative aspects of Android's Law, there are some benefits: Companies that have lived in the shadows now have the opportunity to emerge. IDC analyst Will Stofega says, “Since Android is free, these manufacturers are willing to take some chances. The need to come up with something that's going to stick and be a major player is intense.”
Take a minute to look at ZTE. Who were they in 2009? Since the introduction and popularization of Android, ZTE has doubled its global market share, ousted Apple as the fourth largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world, and booted RIM to the “others” category. Even LG – who isn't exactly known for smartphones – brought the heat with the world's first dual-core smarphone in 2010, and continues that flame with rumors of the first 3D phone.
The good news is, analysts predict that these cycles will eventually stop shortening, and it only makes sense. Here in the States, most people with smartphones sign two-year contracts when they get their phone. With successors hitting the market six to nine months after the original's release date, most customers are still stuck in their contracts while several generations of phones pass. With US carriers working hard to keep customers in their contracts, the market will eventually be knocked off balance. Either the US will move away from subsidized sales (which is not very likely), or production will calm due to waning sales.
Don't fret, some older devices still shine through all the light of the pending generation. Just because there is a rumor of the successor to your phone doesn't mean it's time to get rid of the old. Some devices have been future-proofed very well and continue to do well amongst newer devices. The EVO 4G is still popular over seven months after its release, and it shares most specs with its newer LTE-capable cousin, the HTC ThunderBolt. Do you feel like your phone has become obsolete amid these 2011 devices? Do Android updates help restore your love for your once-awesome Android phone, or is that new hardware all you can think of?