MWC 2012: The Android arms race is heating up

Summary:With so much at stake, Android smartphone and tablet manufacturers are releasing devices in a never-ending war of escalating product specs. Who loses? The consumers.

Mobile World Congress 2012 has only finished its first day, and already the deluge of Android smartphone and tablet products is so huge that it's virtually impossible to keep track of all the devices that are due out this year.

For the most part, up until now, Android phones and tablets have been commodity, "MOTSS" (More Of The Same Stuff) type of products using virtually the same components. The pressure to differentiate and add discernible customer value among the Android vendors themselves has been massive.

Additionally, rising to the challenge in order to provide value when compared with other platforms, specifically Apple's iPhone and iPad product line, has also been difficult.

One could say there has been so much sameness -- and also so much platform fragmentation -- that it has essentially diluted the value and the identity of Android.

This year, Android is definitely going to get that differentiation, at least among the major vendors. And if Mobile World Congress 2012 is any indication, there will be a lot more component variation, particularly when it comes to SoC's (CPU and embedded GPU) display and camera technology.

And while differentiation and competition can be a good thing, when it happens so fast that competing vendors have to one-up each other constantly, one after another, it becomes a rather laborious task even for those us that are paying close attention to make sense of it all, for the benefit of our readers and the buying public.

Basically, what is happening here is an Android arms race -- one which is occurring at such an accelerated pace that products are becoming obsolete just as fast as they are being released, because the competing manufacturers have to respond almost immediately with a "better" product and then of course, the others have to immediately re-group and retaliate.

You got a dual 1.5 Ghz processor coming? Oh yeah? Well I got a quad-core 1.2 Ghz processor coming with a better GPU. Really? You got a 1.2 Ghz quad-core processor? Well I got a quad-core 1.5 Ghz processor, and my on-board GPU is four times faster than yours and my screen technology is better and bigger. And my camera has bookoo-awesome Werner Klemperer optics with a gazillion more megapixels than yours.

But these kind of shenanigans aren't happening over a course of a year, this is starting to seem like Android phone or tablet flavor of the month. It's getting out of control.

What this one-upmanship among the vendors causes is a case of extreme device build-up and market confusion. And instantaneous buyer's remorse. Case in point, Samsung.

Just how many more Android products does Samsung intend to release to this market this year? A Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, two different flavors of Galaxy Notes (one of which is barely different from the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1) , several intermediate sized superphones that I'm sure I'm completely forgetting, and of course, this completely ridiculous Galaxy S III that is purported to have a 1080p Blu-Ray resolution display with a quad-core processor and LTE.

Seriously, am I supposed to hire an entire posse to haul the 10,000 mAh battery pack accessory behind me to keep that thing running on a full charge for an entire day? For what other reason would you design such a power sucking phone like this unless it's simply to one-up the competition?

There's no way a product like this is actually providing the customer actual value other than bragging rights, which I''m sure will last a whole week until another vendor announces a 1080p phone with a crisper display and built-in 3D. And a hydrogen fuel cell to keep it running.

It's bad enough that my blasted Samsung Galaxy Nexus is already outdated  -- which, by the way, I'm finding its market-leading Android 4.0.2 plain-Jane Google Experience OS be buggy as all hell and am really aggravated that the promised bug fixes that appeared at launch have not been released yet. Wasn't the whole damn point of buying a Nexus is that it was supposed to get the updates first?

This phone is only two months old and at least for the time being, is the company's flagship phone on Verizon. But if MWC 2012 is any indication, it won't be for long.

The stupid stock 1850 mAh battery on it is barely big enough to keep this dual-core 1.2 Ghz, 720p-capable phone running for 3 hours.

SEIDIO had to send me a monster-sized 3800 mAh battery pack so I could run it all day long in 4G mode. If I want to make it go for longer than a day, I have to set the phone to CDMA/3G. And now Samsung wants to make a phone with more than double this phone's specs using current battery technology? Are they insane?

So if you think things are bad with the Nexus not being updated and being a total power hog, imagine what these gazillion other Androids coming out are going to be like. How can these vendors hope to keep them all up to date?

They won't, and they can't. They don't have the discipline to keep them all updated over the course of your wireless contract and they really couldn't give a damn about you after you've bought it.

They'll all be abandon-ware within 2, 3 or 4 months until something better and newer has to be released. And they will all end up being poorly-engineered, buggy, poorly supported power sucking pawns in a never-ending and escalating feature war of questionable value to the consumer.

Honestly, right now, if someone asked me which Android phone or tablet they should buy in the coming weeks and months, I'd probably have to throw my arms up in total defeat and tell them I had no freaking idea. And I'm supposed to be knowledgeable about all this crap.

If you think things are nuts now, just wait another week until Apple announces the iPad 3 or whatever it ends up being called. Then the Android tablet arms race will have to scramble to escalate features even further to attempt to counteract that problem. Which they will all fail to do.

And by September of 2012 when iPhone-whatever-number-they-call-it is released, they'll have to scramble to boost specs even further. Sadly, they won't do it with innovation, superior customer support, solid build quality and product refinement, which is what they should be doing.

Oh and Apple? They may only refresh their smartphone and tablet products once a year, but you can bet that if you buy a iOS device, it will get several software upgrades when the latest and greatest product comes along, long after the end of your warranty and the end of your wireless contract.

Apple's track record with this sort of thing speaks for itself. Walled garden or not, the company takes care of its customers. This is precisely how you build brand loyalty -- not by releasing product of the month and so quickly abandoning the poor schmucks that bought your last device.

This kind of insanity is enough to make a hard-core Android fan like myself think very seriously about joining the other team. I'm tired as an consumer of these devices being caught in their arms race. And I refuse to subject my friends, family and colleagues that rely on my advice on which products to buy to this continuing nonsense either.

Has the Android arms race escalated to the point of ridiculousness, and without concern for actual customer needs? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Android, Apple, Hardware, iPad, Mobile OS, Processors, Samsung, Security, Smartphones, Tablets

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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