Should Android OEMs focus more on quality control?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| November 4, 2011

One of the largest advantages to Android is the open availability of different handsets. You are not restricted to one carrier, manufacturer, price point, form factor or even specific software. Instead, you have a choice when it comes to each and every one of these aspects. Despite being perceived as an advantage over Android's largest competitors, who pale in comparison when I comes to sheer numbers of device selection, it also comes with some consequences.

Unlike Microsoft, who creates minimum hardware requirements for their partner manufacturers to follow, Android is much more open to what manufacturers choose to do with their software. If an OEM wants a device to be officially supported by Google (with Android Market, Google Maps, Gmail, etc.), they must abide by Google's terms in the Android Alliance and have their individual plans approved by Android godfather, Andy Rubin. But when it comes to hardware, Google could not care less, and that's a problem.

This is where OEMs really need to step up to the plate.

Though some of you seem to disagree with me, the multitude of low-end Android phones have somewhat tainted the face of Android. On top of poor build quality and use of cheap, fragile plastic, they are usually severely underpowered and performance takes a hit, subsequently. According to a recent study, originally reported by Reuters, these Android phones are costing carriers more than they bargained for. The study, performed by wireless firm WDS, reveals that fitting "older versions of Google's Inc popular Android software to cheaper cellphones could send the repair costs of global telecoms operators up as much as $2 billion," says Tamaro Virki of Reuters.

Let me begin by saying that I have my doubts about the study. There is little concrete information given by both Reuters and WDS, and $2 billion seems to be a rather lofty number. (I'm sure it's possible, given the volume of collective Android handsets that are moved each quarter and the fact that WDS claims each returned phone costs an operator roughly 80 British pounds in service fees and transportation.) However, it does bring up a very good point.

Tim Deluca-Smith, VP of marketing at WDS, states, "At the moment, Android is a bit of the Wild West." He's completely right. In the several dozen units I have groped and tested in the past year or so, I cannot remember one that did not creak, have light leakage issues around the display or some other outlying hardware issue.

That doesn't mean there aren't exceptions to the rule. HTC, Samsung and Motorola can and have made some very nice devices, like the HTC Amaze 4G, Motorola DROID RAZR (not out just yet) and Samsung Galaxy S II. What I'm mainly focusing on here are the devices between flagships, the phones that aren't for the tech addicts out there who simply want a smartphone. If a smartphone newcomer goes out and buys one of the cheapest Android phones their carrier offers, the chances of them being content with their decision six months down the road is pretty slim. Deluca-Smith goes on to say, "While this price point sounds very attractive, when you look at a total cost of ownership its a different story."

For example, I was talking to a woman in the coffee shop I frequent a few weeks back who told me she routinely goes into her carrier store for a warranty exchange roughly every two months to exchange her HTC DROID Eris for the display going out. Now, it's worth noting that she could easily be exaggerating a bit, and I'm sure the no lemon policy would kick in at some point. But the point is that she, and many other non-techies that I have talked to about Android, have a very similar outlook on the platform.

On a more positive note, a lot of the problems that ultimately lead consumers to return their Android phone are problems with software (intermittent lag, texting and notifications problems, etc.) and will be filtered out as the platform matures. And performance issues will become more scarce as Ice Cream Sandwich introduces hardware-accelerated graphics.

Even still, it all comes down to the manufacturer's ability to provide a solid product, even at free after subsidization. Then again, they could solve a lot of their own problems and could probably create more solid products if they focused on creating less phones per year ...

What are your thoughts on hardware problems with Android devices? Should HTC, Samsung and Motorola focus more on quality control? Will carriers eventually become fed up with high return and warranty exchange rates?