Om Malik used a great word in a post from a few weeks ago – Androidification. He was talking about how every hardware maker, save for Apple, is coming out with Android models for their phones and other portable devices.
Three thoughts come to mind about this reaction to Android:
1) Google is really becoming the new Microsoft – run by engineers, business-focused, doesn’t focus on design and experience (well, maybe a little more design focus than Microsoft)
2) Great mobile software solutions are non-existent and hardware makers are hungry for something better than Windows Mobile
3) In light of thought #2 above – if HP, Motorola, HTC, Samsung and Dell are all building Android models, what’s the difference?
It just seems to me that all these hardware makers are like different car makers creating their cars on the same assembly line with the same engines. Sure, they’re all modifying their units so they can claim they have a unique value proposition and they’re better than each other, but at the end of the day, they’re all really pretty similar.
I’d like to say that Android is the BMW 3 Series (very popular in the modder community) of mobile OSs, but after inspecting a few of my coworkers Motorola Droids and having watched enough demo videos, I’ve come to the conclusion that Android is more like the Honda Civic of mobile OSs. This is not a bad thing. The Honda Civic is one of the most popular cars on the planet. They’re well built, get great gas mileage and are easy to customize – but the Honda Civic has never had the attention to detail and focus on design that a BMW 3 Series has had. That’s just a fact.
David Pogue confirms what I’ve seen myself in his review of the new Nexus One:
Finally, the Nexus just doesn’t attain the iPhone’s fit and finish. The buttons under the screen (Back, Menu, Home, Search) are balky, often ignoring your finger-presses completely. One of the animated wallpapers freezes the phone with a message that says: “Sorry! The application Android Live Wallpapers has stopped unexpectedly. Please try again.” (Note to Google: I did. The same thing happened.)
In addition, the Nexus One, and other Android devices, still pale beside the iPhone for playing music, video and games. The apps available for these functions aren’t nearly as sophisticated as on the Apple devices.
I’ve read posts pointing out the fact that because so many vendors are making their own ‘flavors’ of Android, that there’s the potential for the platform to fragment and with fragmentation, comes the chance that applications built for Android won’t work correctly on all these ‘flavors’. The iPhone doesn’t suffer this because while there are newer and different models, they all run the same iPhone OS.
The Register quotes Sanjay Jha of Qualcomm, who says Google wants fragmentation.
From the post:
If mobile devices converge on one or two platforms, then developers will decide it’s worth porting native applications only to these platforms – as in the desktop world. But with fragmented environments Web 2.0 technologies become the only effective way to create mobile applications. These are the kinds of applications at which Google excels. Launching a new platform, and putting considerable resources behind it, is an effective way of preventing platform consolidation.
If it’s true that this is Google’s strategy, it makes a lot of sense, and will further ensure that no hardware vendor will come out on top.
Perhaps hardware vendors are fine not selling the most units. Perhaps they’re happy sharing the same OS with their competition. Perhaps they openly admit they don’t want or know how to make their own software.
Just don’t expect your Civic to stand out from the pack of other Civics on the road, It’s never going to be a 3 Series.
*note – I know my analogy of iPhones-to-BMW’s isn’t entirely accurate. From a design standpoint it is, from a cost standpoint, it’s not, and that’s a good thing (you can get an iPhone for $99)