I was going to write about something else this week, but then I read Noah’s article about the fact that the average consumer doesn’t know what “Android” means and really doesn’t care. It’s “Droids” that rule, right? Well, sort of.
As most of the faithful readers of this site know, all Android devices are NOT created equal. My personal opinion is that I don’t think manufacturers should create and market as many low and even so-called “midrange” Android devices as I see because I think it cheapens the consumer mind-set about the Android operating system, and by extension the Android “brand.” As much as most of the Android fanboy crowd hates to recognize the existence of, let alone the dominant mind and market-share of, competitor’s offerings, the Android operating system has to compete with the likes of Apple, Research in Motion, and Microsoft’s smartphones. With each of those companies focused on the continued development and modernization of their software, they have also taken complete control over the development and manufacture of their hardware.
While we do not yet know exactly what RIM’s Blackberry 6 and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 software platforms will look like, we have a pretty good idea what their hardware requirements will be. Additionally there has been quite a bit of commentary about possible hardware limitations for upcoming iterations of Google’s Android operating system, but nothing concrete has been released on that front. We know that screen size, processor speed and ram size are very important elements in the overall user experience of one of these devices.
When it comes to these specs, the average consumer’s (i.e. not necessarily those who are reading this article) eyes are likely going to start to glaze over. In fact, many of the more technical specs are not even disclosed to the consumer in the point-of-purchase materials available to consumers in retail stores. The consumer is left to rely on the often-times marginally informed sales associate who is more interested in adding another activation to the sales commission sheet than making sure the consumer gets a device that will best serve them for the duration of their contract. I think many of us have had that moment where we realize we are more educated about these devices than the sales associate, right?
I would like to see Google take a bit more control over the marketing and consumer education materials of Android the “brand.” I’m not delusional enough to think I’ve got any better ideas than Verizon with the “Droid” branding scheme, which has by all accounts been a wild success. I’m thinking more in terms of educating consumers about what they are going to be using. I read one comment by a reader on this site that a Verizon rep attempted to market a LG Ally as a more powerful device than the Motorola Droid, and I’m sure some people are getting hood-winked into purchasing lower-end devices due to the current unavailability of the Droid Incredible and the Droid X. Stories like this make me cringe a little. There has to be a better way to educate non-technically minded consumers about what they are spending their hard-earned money on.
My idea comes from the many other products I’ve purchased that have had attached to them a “good, better, or best” classification based on the individual product’s capabilities relative to other products within the same brand and/or product line. I’m not sure where the lines should be drawn, but I have to imagine there could be an objective set hardware and software specifications that could determine the category in which each device would belong. I think Google would have to set and enforce the device category classifications and enforce them as a part of a more unified brand standard, otherwise manufacturers would have an incentive to fluff up a device’s capabilities in order to increase it’s sales. To be included in the “best” category, manufacturers should be required to both meet Google’s hardware requirements, but they would also be required to commit to supporting all software upgrades pushed out by Google during the two-year period following the initial release of the device. Device manufacturers would obviously price the hardware in each category accordingly, but consumers would at least have the opportunity to better understand what they are spending their money on and just what kind of mileage that “free” phone will get them.
While there are obvious disadvantages to a system like this from a manufacturer and marketing standpoint, I can see nothing but advantages for both wireless carriers and average consumers. Now, I obviously haven’t exhaustively thought a system like this through, so I’m sure there are limiting factors that I haven’t considered, but my goal is to try to build on some of my prior commentary as well as commentary from the other great editors on this site and the many other great Android sites out there. As I’ve said before, if we don’t start the dialogue about these things, its highly possible that no-one else will either.