This is a great post by Danny Sullivan. For those of us caught up in the iOS vs. Android battle, it can be easy to lose sight of the simple, bigger picture.
Android may be “open” in the fact that other companies can use the source code and users who so desire (and know how) can root it. But from a pure consumer perspective, the Android phone ecosystem is often anything but open. It’s a huge fucking nightmare — as has been showcased once again by the release of Ice Cream Sandwich.
How weird is it that Google just released a new flagship OS and is going on and on about how great it is, but the vast majority of users have absolutely no access to it? Worse, most have absolutely no clue when — or if — they’ll ever have access to it. This sounds like pretty much the opposite of being “open” to me.
Even stranger, this even includes the devices given Google’s own stamp of approval. Writes Sullivan:
It really doesn’t get more absurd than being unable to know when or if you’ll get the latest version of Google’s own Android operating system on Google’s own Nexus S branded phone. It’s as if you owned a Mac but were given no clue from Apple about whether it could run a new version of Mac OS X.
And the zinger:
Actually, it’s not like that, because Apple would never allow such uncertainty.
Which stings because it’s absolutely true. Can your device run iOS 5? Probably. But you can double check for yourself right at the bottom of this page.
Sullivan also digs up a quote from Larry Page at CES in 2006, decrying a lack of standards for electronic devices. Writes Sullivan:
Despite this, Page’s company sits on top of the Android ecosystem doing seemingly little to really ensure that there is a standard for how and when handsets will get Android updates.
Towards the end of this post, Sullivan notes that it’s not like iOS is any better when it comes to openness, particularly with regard to choice. But the key difference is that Apple never frames it that way. If you want to buy an iPhone, you know what you’re going to get. And that includes software upgrades for a least the two-year span of your contract. With Android, for all the talk of “open” as a good thing, who the hell knows what you’re going to get? It’s a total mixed bag.
So why is the situation so shitty? Partially because for all the promise of Android disrupting the mobile game, Google has essentially just been turned into the carrier’s and OEM’s bitch. Business as usual.
Android is Windows Mobile with an open subsidiary to lull everyone into thinking that everything is different now and great. It’s not. The devices may have gotten better, but that would have happened with or without Google. In many cases, the carrier control situation is actually worse now.
From the carrier perspective, Android is the opiate of the masses.
Oddly enough, the catalyst to change this now lies with the OEMs. Right now, they are all looking at Apple and realizing that the real money lies in controlling the entire package. Most lacked the software expertise early on, so they had to team with Google. But now they’re building up this expertise and they have a base from which to work: open Android. They’ve seen what Amazon and Barnes & Noble have done. They hear about what Facebook is doing. And at a time in which Google is buying Motorola, the OEM world is shifting.
But again, all of this is too far into the weeds. High level from Sullivan:
A big reason behind this mess is that Google doesn’t actually sell the Android operating system to consumers. If it did, it would probably care more about ensuring customers (because that’s what they would be) were covered from start to finish.
The Android-as-Windows metaphor doesn’t work because Windows was a product Microsoft actually sold (both to PC makers and consumers). They made money directly from it and as such, cared about consumers upgrading. If they didn’t upgrade, it directly hurt Microsoft’s bottom line. The same isn’t true with Google and Android. If anything, the herding of the cats is detrimental to their bottom line because it’s a black hole for time and money. Google made the bed they now lie in.
But I’m back into the weeds again. Let’s keep it simple:
You have an Android device. Can you upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich? For the vast majority of you, the answer isn’t just “no”, it’s “I don’t know”. And that’s one big open problem.
[image: flickr/Alastair Rae]