Google has a problem.
The problem doesn’t lie with the software. It doesn’t lie with the build quality or battery life. It doesn’t lie with anything that Apple is doing. Google’s problem lies with the carriers and OEMS.
The prime example is the atrocity that is the Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus that was released in 2011. It was billed as a “Nexus” device with a “pure Google experience”. Free of bloat ware, LTE speeds, excellent display, and constant updates from Google. It was advertised as a “consumer device” as opposed to being a developer device. They even had commercials advertising such things.
Fast forward to 2013 and the device saw a grand total of two late updates (ICS and Jellybean 4.1.1), Google Wallet has been blocked/disabled by Verizon, and as of today, I was assured that since this device is “retired” it will not be getting any more software updates. So, is this what a “pure Google experience” feels like? I surely hope not.
Sadly, this had been my experience with Android over the past few years. It’s been rather frustrating to say the least. I’ve had a HTC Incredible, Motorola Droid, HTC Incredible 2, HTC Rezound, Nexus 7, and now a Galaxy Nexus LTE. With the exception of the Nexus 7, all have been horrid experiences. Complete hardware failures (multiple), software issues, poor user interfaces, etc. I figured that the Galaxy Nexus would be a different story as this was to be a Google device and not bound by the rules as the other devices but I couldn’t be more wrong.
I soon found the device to be nothing more than a slightly less-bloat free device which had horrible call quality, signal issues, random reboots and software freezes. Taking the device to Verizon for service was an exercise in futility as the techs would just perform a factory reset or do a hardware swap. Same issue on the new device. It was the software that needed to be updated but Verizon wasn’t going to push it. No, instead they place the blame on Samsung and Google for not pushing the updates. After a while the customers that can’t use the phones just give up and either buy iPhones or root their devices. This is where the problem is.
If you market something as a typical consumer device, you can’t expect the average consumer to know how or even want to try to root their phone. They buy something and they expect it to work as promised. The Nexus LTE wasn’t promoted as a developer phone. It was marketed as a consumer phone. Oddly enough, as a developer phone it also fails. Verizon insisted on blocking/disabling Google Wallet and not providing ANY updates whatsoever to Jellybean. As far as they were concerned, Jellybean 4.1.1 is the best that Android can get so they had no need to ever update it. Why do developers even need to make calls on this device?
To make matters worse, the OEMs just love to put their hideous UI skins on the devices to further muck up the process. HTC Sense, Samsung Touch Wiz, and Motorola MotoBlur all detract from the value of the device and lead to subpar and frustrating experiences. Consumers eventually come to know the entire Android operating system as some ugly unintuitive UI that crashes a lot and becomes obsolete and unsupported before their contracts are up. This isn’t what Android is.
The latest version of Jellybean is a fast, fluid, intuitive, functional, and extremely attractive OS that the majority of Android users won’t even see until they buy another phone or root their current phones. It’s a sad fact and it’s something that iOS users don’t have to deal with.
The Apple iPhone 4 still received the last update (iOS 6) and the device was released in June of 2010. The same day that the update is released, you can get it on your device. The updates may be missing a few features on the older devices but regardless, it still gets some love. Most Android device are lucky to see just one update their entire cycle and are quickly discarded if there’s not a strong developer community to put out buggy ROMs occasionally. Even this month’s supposedly high profile devices are tossed to the dogs after a few months when something with slightly better specs is announced.
I realize that OEMs have the right to do whatever they want to the OS since Android is open-source. I also realize that carriers can also do what they want on their network but there MUST be some sort of structure to Android at some level for this operating system to have a future.
Google needs to step up to the carriers and take charge of their own updates. If they want to market a “Nexus” device then support it like you would a true Nexus device. Since OEMs are going to run rim shot and fork the OS, let the consumers know and give them options. Don’t just rely on the tech geeks to go to the Play Store, wait months to buy a Nexus 4, and then sign up for service through a carrier that supports GSM. The average consumer isn’t going to do that. They’re going to go down to their local carrier store and get the phone with the biggest screen…
Apple is going to continue to make great devices. I don’t think Tim Cook is dumb and he knows what he needs to do. Apple is the type of company that doesn’t need to innovate all the time. They just need to continue to make quality products just like they’ve always done and update iOS and mark my words, iOS will catch up to Android in the near future.
Google’s “make it or get broken” moment is the day they decide to provide structure for Android or rely on the tech geeks to all go out and all buy a Droid.