Contrary to popular belief, I love Android. I really do. I want to watch it continue to gain market share and give the other big players a run for their money. And even after what happened today with Samsung and some of its customers, I still love Android the operating system.
What I don't love, however, are the manufacturers that use Android to their advantage. Android is an open platform, and I think that the fact that I can customize it to my liking is phenomenal. But that's also Android's biggest downfall, as manufacturers have the same thought process as me.
If there was any doubt that fragmentation exists, I think Samsung's move today squashed it. I know that all of you that are reading this article just root your devices anyway, but think about the average consumer, and even the slightly above-average ones, too. I doubt any of those people root and flash custom ROMs, but I don't doubt that they know about software updates. If they follow gadget sites (like this one) they've probably heard of the newest iteration of Android, too, and wonder when they'll get it.
When it doesn't come, what happens to those consumers' mindsets about Android as a whole? Samsung's move could potentially hurt HTC and Motorola handset sales, and eventually, those 20 million Galaxy S owners leave for another platform. Read on to find out what could possibly happen to the green guy if manufacturers don't get their stuff together.
From Google's perspective, Android is supposed to be completely open for everyone. But as soon as a manufacturer picks it up and messed around with the appearance, it becomes relatively closed down. Updates are then coming straight from the manufacturer, after, of course, all of its proprietary skinning and apps are plastered on to it.
That then causes phones to become way behind in comparison to the competition, which is a bigger problem than it might sound: including the lack of new features, app incompatibility is something that I've encountered a few times on some of the Android devices I've used in the past. At that point, users are not only missing awesome new features from Google but also (potentially) apps that could make up for some of those features.
By the time one update comes out for one phone, the latest and greatest update will already be out and running on others. That's when the less-than-tech-savvy consumer will truly become upset, as this phone will already be outdated and look lackluster in comparison to a friend's new Android phone, even if the former is only six months old.
It all comes down to skinning because Android is completely open. Again, like I said before, Android's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. In my opinion, there's a compromise that Google should make between completely open and completely locked down. If it were up to me, I would tell manufacturers to leave the bootloader and OS itself untouched and just sell the hardware to consumers. There's enough differentiation in hardware from device to device to keep them competitive.
Basically, all I want is a Galaxy Nexus-like device from every manufacturer. Heck, it would even make sense for manufacturers to sign up with one of the big Android dev forums and provide its ROMs there for people to flash if they truly were fans of the skin. This would let the consumer choose which version of Android they're running on their devices, and fragmentation would cease to be an issue.