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Android Manufacturers Need to Slow Down [Opinion]

About two months ago my brother decided to switch from Verizon to Sprint as his mobile carrier. He asked me what phone he should get on Sprint. He wanted a stock device because he had a bad experience with a skinned Android device (he was coming from a Droid Eris). I told him that there would probably be a new Nexus device out soon, but if he wanted to get a good device now, the best device would be the Nexus S.

Now that the Galaxy Nexus has been announced, I still feel confident with my recommendation. Why? He has a device that will still receive updates. Despite being almost a year old (from its original release, not the Sprint release), the Nexus S is still a great device.

Google has largely followed the same pattern as Apple in their halo device releases: one device per year. Unlike Apple, however, every Nexus device has been a major update in both software and hardware (though the Nexus S may eventually look like an exception if hardware/software innovation continues at its current rate). Despite the Nexus One being left behind in updates, buyers can be confident that when they purchase a Nexus device, they will have a top of the line device for quite a while. 

Despite this pattern, Android manufacturers have continued to release dozens of handsets a year, many of which are hardly different from the last device. Motorola released the Atrix 2 on AT&T a mere 8 months after the original Atrix was released. The DROID Bionic was released just last month, yet Motorola is already releasing a much better device, the DROID RAZR, next month. Samsung released the DROID Charge in May of this year, but this month has released the Stratosphere – essentially the exact same phone, but with a keyboard. HTC released the Sensation in May of this year and this month has released the Amaze 4G, which is a slightly improved Sensation XE. On top of that, HTC released the Rhyme, which is even more gender oriented than the DROID line of phones, limiting its market appeal.

The same can be said for tablets made by manufacturers. Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and Sony all offer (or will soon be offering) multiple tablet options. Samsung offers the Galaxy Tab in 7, 8.9, and 10.1 inch sizes, Motorola offers the Xoom and the Xoom Family Edition (and soon the Media Edition), HTC offers the Flyer and the Jetstream, and Sony offers the Tablet S and soon the Tablet P. In general, all of these editions of different tablets offer the same operating system on slightly differing hardware (the Tablet P being the one notable exception).

I don’t think that there is a problem with hardware differentiation. In fact, I think that’s part of what makes Android great. If you want a phone that is thin and light or with a horizontal keyboard or a vertical keyboard or a gamepad, you have options (still no vertical slider keyboard though…). If you want a tablet that is a light and good for reading or note taking, you have the Galaxy Tab 7 or the Flyer. If you want a tablet that docks into a keyboard you have the Transformer (has anyone mentioned how gorgeous the Transformer Prime looks?).

That said, I think there is some value to Google’s approach of making one halo device per year. I think the ideal would be for manufacturers to release one device per year, but one per quarter is probably more realistic. Instead of releasing several dozen devices per year that are essentially small iterations on older devices, manufacturers could release only a few devices on every carrier. This would make things easier for journalists that cover Android news, but more importantly, it would help establish brands and names that consumers would better be able to identify with.

I’m guessing that most people who purchased a DROID Bionic are at least a little upset that Motorola is releasing a better device only two months later on the same carrier. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just cancel the Bionic (a device that many had given up on) or save the RAZR name comeback for another device? The Thunderbolt and the upcoming Rezound are essentially the same story, but HTC didn’t delay the Thunderbolt (which was essentially the HTC Evo on Verizon).

By slowing their releases to four times a year and releasing the same device on every carrier, manufacturers would create a direct relationship with consumers instead of via carriers. Rather than releasing the same device with slightly bumped specifications, manufacturers could release varying form factors to better differentiate. With limited releases, manufacturers would be more encouraged to make each device the best it can be instead of pushing out a poor device only to anger early adopters with a better device a short time later.

Handset differentiation can be a tremendously powerful tool for Google and manufacturers to create devices that meet people’s needs without making them regret not waiting for a better device to be released a few months later. Constant hardware iterations help make Android powerful, but too many differentiations make the platform look confusing and chaotic, especially when they’re from the same manufacturer. There is power in differentiation, but there is also power in simplicity.

  • Guest

    Manufacturers don’t determine when a device is released, the Carrier does.

  • Josh P.

    When company’s release new phones at a fast pace it actually helps so people don’t have to sit around out of contract waiting to upgrade because they get the best phone right then when their upgrade is available.I do agree that they should slow down on the release and put a little more time into testing so things like the Droid Eris/Devour don’t get released. 

  • joejoe509

    Nice article! I’m somewhat on the fence about it. Yeah, it’s incredibly frustrating to have so many devices coming out so quickly that it seems like your $600 device is old news just a few short months later. But that’s just human nature to want the biggest and the best. If we were happy with what we have and appreciative that we have this great technology, we wouldn’t be quite as pissed. Technology should never be restricted just becuase the consumers are tired of this system. Research and development needs to grow and expand freely. And mobile companies make a ton of money with this current trend. I’m sorry but I don’t see an end to this. We’re just going to have to suck it up and be thankful the technology in our hand.

    I don’t mind my phone becoming old news. That’s just the way technology works these days. Cameras, computers, etc. it’s all the same. I’m more concerned with updating our software quickly (which is why I’m buying the Nexus) to keep my device as current as the hardware will allow. I would also hate to see manufacturers cheapen the devices so that they don’t hold up over two years. And for goodness sake, can we stabilize the prices? $300 is about the tops I’m willing to pay for a phone that will be worth half that and outdated in less than 6 months. I feel like I’ve been double-raped when you overcharge me and then discontinue the phone so soon.

  • Anonymous

    This what I understand Ron to be saying. He wants a more Apple like release schedule. Something more predictable to make it easier to pick an entry and upgrade point. Hardware should be supported with updates for a certain amount of years, as with the Nexus Class of two or three years. Releasing four phones a year to all carriers would, each with a different configuration, would streamline the user experience. Android would still have plenty of choices and lots of competition with half or a quarter the fragmentation. Think 16 phones a year vs 40+.  Think how simple it would be: each year at a specified time each manufacturer sent out a relative clone of each others phones, specs would be near the same, only the user experience would be different through skins and other minor tweaks. I think it would do wonders not only for innovation, but for the community. Devs could focus on a single phone for an entire year. Tell me I’m wrong?

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I don’t think having relative clones would be the best, but the rest is accurate. :)

  • Fattie McDoogles

    Thank you @ronoffringa:disqus for a well written and well thought out article. I agree that manufacturers should put out fewer devices or at least space them better because it is a little ridiculous how close they are together especially when they are on the same carriers ie: Bionic and RAZR. But I do disagree with the once a quarter idea. I was all for it at first but some of the commentors bring up a good point (even if many of them have no concept of tact). Slowing phone releases also slows down hardware development. Although Google does it right their hardware upgrades would seem more like Apples if the other OEM’s were releasing hardware as fast as they are. I think the real issue is software updates. OEM’s are so focused on pushing new handsets they they forget about the ones already out and don’t do much in the way of future proofing them so that they aren’t leaving consumers high and dry every time new software out ie: EVERY Samsung phone, the DInc, EVERY HTC phone. Its almost like each phone has its own team within the company and none of them are talking to each other to compare ideas on how to make everything cohesive. If they would get on the same page and work more with Google to make sure that phone are updated in a timely manner then it wouldn’t be such a noticeable issue.

  • TrappN

    I really agree with your opinion. I was really excited for the bionic, then low-and-behold, the Galaxy Nexus comes out, I have the OG and I’ve seen at least 10 new devices since. . .
     

  • http://twitter.com/humancyborg Human Cyborg

    Why would the manufacturers slow down? People continue to buy the devices. This is part of the problem with the Anrdroid/Windows model.

    This is a great article/diagram showing Android support by device: http://theunderstatement.com/post/11982112928/android-orphans-visualizing-a-sad-history-of-support

  • Anonymous

    I said this a month ago. I can’t believe the Droid 4 is coming out. Dude I just bought my phone a few days after it was released. Yes this would definitely eliminate some buggy software. Manufactures please read this article. #FTW 

  • Kianjudah

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    This is the exact reason Im going with a phone or tablet that has a once a year model update plan. The Nexus series will be my choice for phones and Im hoping Asus continues to hit it out of the park with their tablets so Im going to take a stab at the Transformer prime when it drops. As consumers we have the power to make educated decisions much like the one you and your brother made going with the Nexus phone. Just because there are a bunch of options doesnt mean we have to take them. Some due diligence goes a long way and will keep that buyers remorse down to a minimum. 

    • Kierra

      So you carrier hop?

      • Anonymous

        No?

  • Ecruz

    Very well written article. alot of good points were made and hopefully some one at the manufacturing level soon will understand this.

  • Anonymous

    I have to say, faster the better, so bring on more. This is the “reason” why Android is gaining the momentum as such fast pace, Thanks to all the manufacturers. 

    One simple thing they can do is, use vanilla instead of their own version. They can develop the apps and use it on the phone but if you have vanilla then there is no delay in update hence reducing the fragmentation, IMHO.

  • Ken

    AMEN! 

  • Stevedub40

    Highly agree, great article.

  • Anonymous

    I think manufacturers should only produce as many devices as they can support/fix for two whole years from launch.  If I’m locked in a 2-year contract and have to put up with bugs they can’t fix for two years because they’re busy allocating all efforts on making new devices, that’s not cool.  That makes me want to say, “I’ll never again buy a ___-made device.”

    I agree that the pace is insane right now, as the phone I wanted when I finally got eligible for an upgrade (Bionic) is already not the phone I want.  However, the market will help them determine release schedules.  When they make a million Bionics, only sell 200,000 of them because they announced a better phone two months later, and have to sell the rest at a loss, they’ll learn not to do that again.  If you want to enact change, hit them in the pocketbook.  They’ll have bean counters and marketing folks crammed in a room to decide why they lost and finally realize they cut their own throats.  Works every time. 

  • Anonymous

    Did I really just read that HTC didn’t delay the Thunderbolt?  LOL!

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      It was released on the originally rumored release date and it definitely wasn’t delayed to the same extent that the Bionic was.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with this Op piece. If manufacturers had less devices to manage, updates would not be a problem and is the reason why most new phones are still being released with Android 2.3.3.

    I understand that most readers are fans/enthusiasts, but very few are business minded and therefore are short-sighted to this articles main point. Even Samsung’s sales as a whole are just up to par as that of Apple’s. Can you imaging if the same efforts were adopted to the Galaxy lines of phones…  There is no core focus and profitability margins evidently are greater on exclusivity.

  • http://profiles.google.com/vdogg89 Victor Stuber

    This article hits the nail on the head. Would steve jobs ever release a dozen phones in a year? Of course not, he made sure they built one phone and put all their efforts into that one phone. I love the nexus approach because it’s easy to update the OS as well.

  • Cesser85

    Well said. If manufacturers directed their effort into making large improvements a couple times a year instead of tiny ones all the time we could see some really cool improvements!

  • http://twitter.com/havens1515 Randy

    Despite you using the word “despite” way too many times in the first few paragraphs, I agree. Manufacturers need to wait to stop releasing the same phone, with slightly different features. It seems like just a money making scheme to make people buy a newer phone, even though they don’t need to.

    It’s like the iPhone, but at a much quicker pace. The iPhone 4S is not different enough to really justify releasing a new phone, but these small changes took Apple an entire year to “innovate”. Android OEMs are doing the same thing in a matter of months.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I didn’t catch my excessive use of despite. Thanks for the feedback.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshLuker Josh Luker

    Perhaps by slowing down some and focusing on key devices and incremental revisions of them, those devices would only get better and better hardware-wise.  I’m an android guy through and through, but anyone that is honest can look at what Apple is doing and admit that they have good hardware because they focus on one key device.

  • KojimaSnake

    Ah… buyers remorse is a beautiful thing. Seems most people need to do a bit more reading on Droid-Life.com before pulling the trigger. There are a lot of devices out there. But I believe that is more due to the different needs of the consumer. Look at how Apple has increased iPoop production due to consumers demand for a better product. iPoop is like that smokin chick you banged last nite, looks so sultry but has no substance. That why Apple must make more versions of the iPoop if the want to survive. That’s what I love about android devices. You have to spend your wad on the top of the line phone like iPoop to enjoy the Android OS. In my opinion the best devices on the market are the Nexus family of phones released buy Google and Samsung. If it was not for the fact they were not on VZW i would own nothing else. I have the OG Nexus and use it only on wifi. But don’t get me wrong I totally love the OG Droid, Droid 2 and Droid X. I own them all and I have rooted and rommed with the best of them. I have always been holding out hope for a Google Nexus device for Big Red since the first Nexus. Now that it is here I can hardly contain my joy. A pure Google device is still in my opinion better than any rom out there. I just hope that this relationship with Google, Samsung & Big Red can stand the test of time. That is make more Nexus or Nexus type devices for VZW in the foreseeable future. But that’s just one mans fantasy.

  • Tim

    I think the major point of this article is valid. Differentiation is needed for competition, simple principle of business.  However, look at what Apple has done by offering the exact same product on 3 carriers, and they do it with a simple intuitive product no less.  Why do manufacturers insist on changing designs of phones from carrier to carriers (Galaxy SII for example).  For a while RIM was a top cell phone manufacturer, and they took the apple approach, same design for a phone across all carriers (with some tweaks inside for network reasons). They didn’t release dozens of phones a year because they didn’t need to.  Motorola was clearly working on the Bionic and the RAZR at the exact same time, so why continue to develop the Bionic after several delays which probably cost the company more money than they will ever make on the device? The RAZR is hands-down a great phone that makes the Bionic look like a little brother that will always be playing catch-up to the RAZR. 

    The fact of the matter is this, because manufacturers are pushing out dozens of phones each year, the fragmented market that is Android will remain fragmented and could get worse.  Now does this mean I think each manufacturer should stop creating their own custom skins for Android? No. But be fair to the consumer and slow down the output of “new” devices each year. Save cost on developing, testing, and marketing of products and put that effort into creating better devices that will receive updates and support for longer periods of  time. Create a relationship with the customer, not with the carriers. 

    In essence, this sounds like the “Apple” way, but they seem to make enough money doing so and maintain a high market share with only ONE device that is the same everywhere you buy it. 

    • Rkeller62

      What you fail to realize is that Apple is only competing against Apple when it comes to iOS devices and RIM is only competing against RIM when it comes to Blackberry devices. This has a very big impact on your hardware cadence as you don’t have to worry about some other manufacturer coming out with “Better” hardware than yours running the same OS.

      Android phone manufacturers have to have many phones in development at any one time to try and keep up with all the other players in the market. While I don’t have any hard facts, I am willing to bet that for every one phone that a manufacturer actually releases, there were 2 or 3 more in development that didn’t make the cut.

      As far as carrier differentiation goes, that is part and parcel with an “open” OS supported by multiple hardware manufacturers. Again, if a carrier wants to carry an iOS or Blackberry OS device, they pretty much have to take what Apple and RIM have to offer. That makes it easy for Apple and RIM to have a “unified” product line across carriers. With Android, the carriers have much more purchasing power. Oh, HTC, you want to make an android phone for Verizon? No problem, here is what you have to do for us, then we will carry it. Not interested? Fine, I’m sure that Motorola will have no problem doing that for us.

      • http://twitter.com/eatmode4life Ray Mendoza

        By skinning it, it makes them different. Yes, the same core functions, but after owning a Bionic for a little bit, I will NEVER buy a product with Blur (or any other iteration) on it.

        That said, some people love Blur and prefer it over Sense and TouchWiz. HTC offers something different than the others, just like Samsung and Motorola. They need to realize that the average user does not care about the latest specs. They care about how well the phone works.

        Say HTC decides not to show at any large shows for 6-8 months. You hear nothing. No new phones, no rumors, no comments. Then they send out an invitation to whomever. They would all be there. “What has HTC been working on? Is it a phone? A line of Phones? A tablet?” The rumor mill would be blazing. No one would care about the Motorola device coming out, wait to see what HTC has been working on.

        Then they show what they are doing. Whatever it is. It would be a hit. A solid device(s) and there would be buzz all over the tech blogs.

        Releasing a device because your competitor did is not always a good move.

      • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

        Apple is not only competing with iOS devices. Android device innovations are competing with the iPhone. Apple has to respond to that too. In fact, in every keynote they compare the iPhone to other devices.

    • Anonymous

      I posted this above, but I think it fits even better here…

      Isn’t the Bionic just the RAZR only fatter and with a removeable battery? I mean aside from the “Smart Actions” software that turns off 4G/3G/wifi for you at intervals to save battery and stuff. As far as real muscle (processor, RAM, display quality), does the RAZR outdo the Bionic? I keep seeing people saying the RAZR is so much better. Do they just like thin phones?

      Everything I have read says the RAZR uses the exact same processor clocked at the exact same speed with the exact same RAM and still a 4.3″ display (although the RAZR is super-AMOLED, but I don’t care for those that much anyway). It’s not the “bigger brother” so much as it is the “twin brother who went on a diet.”

  • Anonymous

    I have to wholesomely disagree.  If you want slow product development, there’s a fruit branded company that will make you just more than happy.  Innovation happens when players are actively competing against each other in the marketplace.  This is where Android is right now and its beautiful to watch.  Do I wish that I could always upgrade to the latest and greatest?  Sure I do.  But I’m not about to curse the Android ecosystem because its enticing me so….
     

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I agree that innovation happens with competition, but that’s not what’s happening. Devices like the Stratosphere and the Rhyme are being released. Those are not innovative devices. This isn’t about having the latest and greatest, it’s about manufacturers releasing fewer devices so that each device is designed to be amazing. No one wants to curse the Android ecosystem, but some of us want it to be better.

  • Rich

    Well with the updates having to go to a 3 ring circus… NO wonder people don’t get updates… They have to go from Google, to the manufacturer to the carrier then to the people… Way to many steps… Forget the locked boot loaders and skins… I should not be paying to be forced to look at bloatware…

    • Anonymous

      im happy google realized this, and put the diable apps option in 4.0. hopefully manufacturers and carriers don’t disable that feature, and leave it for the more techie people to know of it to disable the bloatware.