The Real Problem with Android

25 10 2010

Hint:  It’s not fragmentation.  Yet.

It’s old news by now, but Steve Jobs in a recent earnings call tore into Android.  Specifically, he used TweetDeck’s recent blog post about the Android ecosystem and ‘massive fragmentation’ the developers had to contend with.  Though accurate, the argument is a bit disingenuous as TweetDeck’s CEO Iain Dodsworth tweeted:

(@iaindodsworth) Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn’t. It wasn’t.

Fragmentation is potentially a real issue because of Android’s rapid development cycle, handset makers’ custom skins, and carriers’ draconian upgrade schedules.  However, it has not crippled the OS yet.  The most disturbing aspect of this tiff is Android VP, Andy Rubin’s response:

(@arubin) the definition of open: “mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git:// ; repo sync ; make

What?  For those of you that don’t know, essentially this is the code to download and build the latest version of Android.  Okay, I get it.  Android is “open”.  Anyone can get the source code.  Ironically, not only does this fail to counter the fragmentation argument, it encourages it.

This tweet epitomizes the real problem with Android.  The default response for any complaints against the Android platform is  to “root your phone.”  Carrier not updating your phone?  Root it.  Handset maker installing bloatware?  Root it.  Unfortunately, the average consumer has no interest in ‘rooting’ regardless of its simplicity.  They certainly aren’t going to download the source, compile it, and deploy it to their phone.

It would be unfair to say that Android is not a great operating system.  It is alluring because it gives consumers a superb experience at a competitive price.  However, unless the “root your phone” mindset changes, the doom-and-gloom prophecies of fragmentation will become a reality.  As time goes on and the feature gap widens, end users may grow frustrated being left behind with 9 months remaining on their contract.  They will jump ship as fast as they came.



Interesting Fact: According to Google’s own metrics, only 1/3 of Android users are on the latest version nearly six months after it’s release.  To be fair, 2/3 of Windows users are still on XP one year after Windows 7.