One of the great things about Android is that it is fully customizable, not only by the consumer, but the handset maker that decides to use it as their operating system. After all, that’s the whole point of having open source standards – customization options galore. However, while this has been one of Android’s strengths (and one of the more fun things about the platform), it seems that all of this manufacturer customization may become a pet peeve of those who are trying to keep up with all of the different versions of Android OS coming out. Different phones, different versions of Android, different customizations: does it matter, what’s the difference, and why do they keep using dessert names for everything? Okay, maybe that last one was just a personal pet peeve, but seriously, is it worth trying to keep up with all this Android madness if you’re an “average” consumer? Or should it even bother you?
Well, maybe. For example, let’s say you just spent $100 on the HTC Droid Eris or $200 on the Motorola Cliq – both top-notch smartphones from their respective carriers (Verizon and T-Mobile). Though they both run Android, each maker has added their own tweaks and made them work with their own UIs – Sense and Blur, respectively. What you may not realize though is that these phones came loaded with Android 1.5 and since then Google has updated Android. Twice. Unfortunately, phones running on Android 1.5 cannot (as of yet) update to version 2.0, which means you’re missing out on faster hardware speeds, improved Google maps, and an improved virtual keyboard. This may change once Verizon and T-Mobile figure out how to get their customers updated, but for the moment do you see the problem?
Let’s consider it from another point of view. Up until now, we all thought that we were using Android. Well, technically we were, but was it the real Android? Just as with Sense and Blur, mentioned above, used by Motorola and HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and others have used (and sculpted) various versions of the OS and mixed that with various versions of their own user interfaces. There’s Android 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0 running Blur and Sense and TouchWiz, to name a few.
So now Google is coming out with their own phone, running Android 2.whatever. Does this mean that the “Google Phone” will run Android the way Android was supposed to be run all along since Google is making it themselves? If so, where does that leave the rest of us who are running the “wrong” versions of Android like 1.6 and 2.0.1? You want the latest and greatest and, more importantly, the best that you can get. So what if what you thought was the best wasn’t really the best?
Maybe I’m being a little overdramatic. In a way, this is good for the cell phone market. Android is gaining momentum and if Google has decided to “show ‘em how it’s done” this could be a great boost for designers, which will have trickle-down benefits to the consumers. However, consumers who already spent $100-300 on what they thought was the end-all and be-all of iPhone alternatives, they may be a little upset. Imagine looking at your brand new, top-of-the-line Moto Droid and wondering, “Has Google been holding out on us all this time?”
This is all being said before we really know what in the world is going on with this phone. We’re getting more details, but we won’t really know until Google unwraps it for us. So far, we’ve got rumors of good news for T-Mobile customers and anyone who hates Apple. Supposedly, Google’s got an “iPhone killer” ready for us. We’ll see.