The Five Sins of Android Phone Makers
Guest post by Rohan Naravane.
There’s hardly any doubt that the iPhone is a smartphone nobody can ignore today. Even if Android accounts for over 80 percent of all smartphones sold, you’ve probably heard about how the iPhone eats over 90 percent of all smartphone profits. That is bound to be a cause of worry among Android phone makers, causing shakeups, pressure and is making them look beyond smartphones.
The Apple iPhone symbolizes simplicity and reliability, other than the high brand value of course. But Apple hasn’t single-handedly built that image; competitors have helped them in shaping it. For everything that Android phone makers do wrong, it only makes Apple’s spotlight shine stronger. Here are those five fundamental sins that the former are committing.
1. Adding features, then removing them in the next iteration
I’ve tried hard and cannot remember a single feature that one generation of iPhone had, that wasn’t present in the next one. But the Android camp, which is known for luring people using a laundry list of features that the iPhone does not have, often chooses to give some good ones a skip.
My Galaxy S6 has a useful (to me) IR blaster, but the Galaxy S7 doesn’t. The LG G5 touts of a removable bottom that can be used to attach accessories, but there’s no saying if the G6 next year will have it. The Nexus 4, 5, and 6 had wireless charging, but it was given a miss in the Nexus 6P. The Moto G 2nd Gen had stereo speakers which the 3rd Gen doesn’t.
These are just a few of the many, many examples you’ll find in the Android landscape. It can be frustrating for a loyalist to be robbed of a feature that made him or her buy that Android phone in the first place, only to be removed in the next iteration (sometimes only to be brought back afterward, as was the case with water resistance and microSD card slot in the Galaxy S7).
2. Different software for different phones
The TouchWiz interface that runs on my Galaxy S6 is different from the interface that runs on my mum’s Note 4, and at the time of writing, they both were based on Android 5 Lollipop. The Galaxy S7 has an always-on display feature that the Galaxy S6 doesn’t. The Galaxy S5 has an ultra power saving mode but the Galaxy S4 doesn’t. Because of inconsistencies like these, there’s an increased learning curve even if you switch from one Android phone to another from the same manufacturer.
The now-old Xiaomi Mi4 runs MIUI 7 (Xiaomi’s custom interface) that’s based on Android 4.4 KitKat. The newer Redmi Note 3 runs MIUI 7 based on Android 5 Lollipop. Whereas the newest Xiaomi Mi5 runs the same MIUI 7 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Because of such discrepancy, the Redmi Note 3 despite having a fingerprint scanner, will today not support its usage with apps like 1Password because of the APIs Google baked into Marshmallow. And this is only scratching the surface, let’s not even get into software roadmaps of devices that are a few years old.
It almost seems as if all these products have their own software teams and don’t talk to each other often. This inconsistency and crippling of software are bound to have a positive impact on the sales of the next device, as impatient users like myself will be pushed to upgrade to a new phone just to experience the new software. Maybe that’s what they want.
Yes, the iPhone may be unnecessarily expensive, but the track record suggests you’ll get almost all the software features the next few years to come, that too with fairly consistent user experience.
3. Irregular release cycles
Apple’s iPhone release cycles are timely. Except for the time when they switched from June each year to September in 2011, Apple has released one iPhone model each year. With Android, there’s no knowing how many weeks or months until the product you bought will be sidelined with a slightly better one.
The Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge were launched in March last year, only to be trumped by the Galaxy S6 Edge+ with a bigger display and bigger battery in August. Just months after outing the Note 5 in September last year, they pushed out the Dual SIM version three months later. Sony for years had a ridiculous 6-month release cycle for their Xperia Z series, which like clockwork made owners feel pathetic when the next Z was out. And we’re not even talking about different varieties of the same product (like the Galaxy S6 Active, which was only sold in the US, or the HTC One M9 and M9+, both having different feature sets, launched in different countries).
4. No consistency of excellence
Have you heard about the alternating success/failure pattern of the Microsoft Windows operating system? Windows 98 was good, Windows ME was bad, XP was good, Vista was bad, Windows 7 was good, Windows 8 was bad and seemingly, Windows 10 seems to be good.
The same way, the Galaxy Nexus was good, the Nexus 4 was bad, the Nexus 5 was good, the Nexus 6 was bad, and the current Nexus 6P is great. But after hearing rumors about HTC making the next Nexus phone, I for one am worried about the continuation of this curse.
The point I’m trying to make is that the track record for a successor Android phone to be better than the predecessor from the same company isn’t really top-notch. Whereas Apple hasn’t outed a melon yet. You could say iPhone 5c, but that was a perfectly okay phone with terrible pricing. That track record is good when you intend to upgrade to a new phone every 2-3 years. No wonder people keep jumping from one Android phone maker to another, like people wanting to try out a new flavor of ice cream each time they’re at an ice cream shop.
5. Vested software interests
This point has been stated to death; highlighting Apple’s vertical integration between software and hardware, and the problems it creates due to Android’s lack of it. But an Android-bashing post wouldn’t be complete without it.
Because Android is open, phone manufacturers are constantly trying to mold the default experiences into what they think is the best for their customers. Phone makers constantly neuter Google’s experiences with their own implementation, which isn’t always the better of the two. Just look at how Xiaomi or Samsung choose not to implement Google’s multi-user mode and instead stick to their version of “Private/Guest Mode”, which only works for a couple of their own preloaded apps. Or look at how Samsung will try to bundle their sometimes-inferior alternatives to Google’s own in every Galaxy phone (S Voice, S Planner, the Galaxy App Store, to name a few). You can’t even uninstall them if you don’t like them.
Android phones are a boon. They are helping millions of people get online for the first time at a very affordable cost. Many attempts have been made to solve the problems stated above (Google Play Edition Phones, Android One, the fabled Android Silver program and even Google’s direct involvement to restrict changes to Android). But apart from the short-lived ray of hope that was Motorola from 2013 to 2015, it doesn’t seem like these problems are going away any time soon. And they’re the slow-poison for people like me who can’t help but look the other side, where the grass seemingly shines greener.