Restoring Market Share to the Newest OS

Restoring Market Share to the Newest OSGuest blogger Elliot Guest writes:

Jelly Bean. Google’s hopes rest on the tiny candy, but we must all hope that, unlike the little bite-sized sweet in reality, the good taste isn’t short lived. At least that’s what Google should be hoping.

It’s hoped that, with the release of Jelly Bean, the manufacturers of Android devices will begin slowing their device release process. As I described in a previous post, HTC has taken on this mantra with enthusiasm, releasing its One series (yet there are still three phones!) and as far as I can tell, from Samsung, the only big-hitter it’s released of late is the Galaxy S III.

If companies can slow this process down, they might actually find themselves holding customers in the long run, rather than having people switch out phones (and likely manufacturers) mid-contract, because they’ve seen a phone for which they lust more than the current model. Once they’ve slowed down production, they’ll be able to justify spending more on maintaining devices that they’ve already sold, thus keeping more customers happy in the long run. At least, that’s my paradise vision.

There always used to be a niggle in my devices that caused me to wish for more. When feature phones were all the rage, I was always lusting after bigger screens, better cameras, and more storage — more everything, when it came to hardware.

Now however, I feel as though we’ve hit a saturation point when it comes to the basic hardware. We’re now running with quad-core phones, gigantic screens, and HD resolutions that can support any amount of storage you can throw at them (if they support an expansion slot). Every change to a modern phone’s hardware feels more akin to an iterative improvement rather than a noteworthy upgrade.

Indeed, hardware is now at such a point that it is difficult to test. I noted in a few reviews of the Galaxy SIII that it was hard for the reviewer to form an opinion on the power of the phone, simply because there weren’t apps (games in particular) available in the Play Store that would be able to suitably test the Galaxy S III to its limits. The point is that hardware can be the anchor that you can rely on to hold you down, rather than a hot potato that can’t be held onto by simply buying a new one to replace it.

What I’m hoping for Jelly Bean is that it will be the factor to allow customers to hold onto their phones longer. If Google has one hope for 4.1, it’s that Jelly Bean is going to be the software to unify all these disparate Android devices in the market, and finally knock the torch from Gingerbread and Froyo and Eclair, and all the software versions that are no longer truly competitive.

I see Jelly Bean as an iterative update rather than one that is revolutionary. It is akin to Apple’s Snow Leopard release for Mac, introducing speed tweaks and streamlining over adding additional functionality, much as Windows 7 did over Vista. Project Butter is the most obvious example of this, taking advantage of the hardware that already exists and exploiting it rather than simply asking for more, shown well by the eight-month-old Galaxy Nexus.

If you can run the latest OS on older hardware, why should you need to upgrade? I don’t particularly want to have to change my phone just to get the latest software, nor do I wish to have to learn how to achieve S-OFF and root and anything else required in order to get the latest and greatest open source OS. I’ve already got solid hardware, I have cases and screen protectors, and a desktop dock for it. I’d have to start over from scratch with a brand new phone, and it would take time and effort from the other projects I’m working on, such as writing for this site. In a perfect world, every phone would be easily upgraded to the latest version within a few weeks of its release, and theoretically the open source nature of Android should easily lend itself to this.

This leads me to the crux of this article. If you check out this updated link to the Android Developer’s page, you’ll see that, at the moment, Ice Cream Sandwich is at 10.7% (as of July 2nd, 2012). Jelly Bean has literally just been released, and is now moving to the various versions of the Nexus family, but at the moment I doubt it figures to even 1%. Gingerbread is still steaming along at a huge 63.6%, and at this rate it isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. Unfortunately, Gingerbread’s continuing weight in the marketplace only means one of two things: that phones are not being updated fast enough, or that people aren’t buying enough new phones. I don’t think the problem is in the latter, since it’s not up to a customer to be forced to buy new hardware every month with each iteration of software. Indeed, the contracts we buy into discourage such an action, locking us in for two years, and offering a single phone for that time period. It’s the nature of open source software that it should be readily available for everyone.

My problem is that, as a geek, I’m always desperate to be trying the latest and greatest, but if the current Android distribution is an indicator of anything, it’s that nobody has it, and no one seems to care. Sure, the Internet is rife with people moaning about the Android update problems, but in the meat world, no one bats an eyelid.

At the moment, short of Google stopping making new versions of Android, I can’t see a way out of this predicament. If it can’t find out a way to fix it, it’ll keep releasing OS after OS, and maybe with each iteration it’ll get better, more stable, more feature rich with fun food names, but no one will ever see them except on Nexus devices. Just a few months ago, Gingerbread devices were still being produced, and there are devices being sold today that come with Ice Cream Sandwich, but as far as I can see, those devices are technically obsolete in light of Jelly Bean. How long will it be for us to see Jelly Bean on a device other than a Nexus? Once we get that, we’ll have Key Lime Pie (the next version) to talk about, and Jelly Bean, like Ice Cream Sandwich and Gingerbread before it, will be irrelevant.

What this boils down to is the ultimate question of whether or not Android, as an idea, is stable enough a platform to trust. If you can’t expect the newest version to have a relevant foothold in its own market, then what can you expect from it but to be out of date? It’s a strangely relevant metaphor, considering all of Android’s version names are food-based.

CC licensed Flickr photo by Maulim.