Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

Summary: Let's face it: there are too many Google Android devices. And for consumers, smartphone shopping has become as fun as finding the right toothpaste. Here's why it's a problem.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Telcos, Mobility
89

Let's face it: there are too many Google Android devices.

On Monday, Google announced the availability of the Nexus S, the second iteration of the company's own branded "Nexus" branch of the Android tree.

The phone's selling point is that it carries the latest version of the company's operating system, Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Aside from that, it's the usual internally, with a 1GHz Cortex A8 processor, 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen display (at 480x800 resolution) and enough sensors to make your head spin.

In the announcement, Google noted that the first Android phone (the T-Mobile G1!) arrived to market in November 2008, and since then, "more than 100 different Android devices" have appeared on store shelves, both physical and digital.

I remember the G1's announcement, because I attended the launch event in New York City. At the time, it was a big to-do, with pomp, circumstance, awkward back-patting speeches and hors d'oeuvres.

Since then, it's been a steady growth trajectory: for every landmark Android handset like the Droid, Hero, DroidX and Evo, there have been -- at first in equal numbers, and now far surpassing them -- countless faceless Android handsets.

Anyone remember the Motorola Backflip on AT&T?

How about the T-Mobile Comet? Or the Samsung Behold II?

(Come to think of it, T-Mobile has been a dumping ground for a lot of odd Android handsets -- Motorola Charm, cough cough -- but I digress.)

If migrating to a smartphone from a feature phone wasn't daunting (and expensive) enough, now the consumer must choose which of the countless flavors of Android handsets they want -- even within a single carrier's offerings.

Carriers and manufacturers will insist that the proliferation of Android models gives the consumers choice. But so do consumer products makers about toothpaste.

(I don't know about you, but I waste 20 minutes of my life in the supermarket making a decision every time I need to restock. "Max Fresh"? "Total Advanced"? "Ultrabrite"? "Cavity Protection"? How about just "Clean"?)

Consumers aren't dumb. They know that phones, like toothpaste, are becoming a million minor variations on a common theme. And in doing so, they are diluting the message -- the story, really -- that each phone can convey to the consumer.

We want our products to be personal. That's why upscale restaurant menus tell you about "grass-fed beef." It's why Ford commercials show farmers piling hay in the back of an F-150. And it's why Apple makes such high-quality (in terms of production value) videos painstakingly describing the process by which its major products -- the MacBook, the iPhone, the iPad -- are made.

We all want a story. But like our inboxes at work, when there's too much noise, it's hard to care.

I've warned ZDNet readers before about the dangers that fragmentation play from a software standpoint. This time, it's not the many versions of Google's mobile platform on the market I'm concerned with -- rather, it's the many handsets themselves.

A device without a story is disposable. A subpar device without a story is even worse.

The other day, I saw a commercial for an Android handset. I wasn't especially paying attention, but when it was over, my fiancée asked me, "Which one is that? Is that any good?" And for the first time in my career covering gadgets at ZDNet, I had no idea.

To be fair, I'm spending a lot more time over at SmartPlanet, ZDNet's innovation-minded sibling, and less time here on the Toybox. But there was no peg on which to hang my familiarity about the device -- no story, no distinguishing feature. Just "new."

Remember when the Droid first came out? Oh, how it was coveted! It was the best of the best. A lap ahead of other Android handsets, and the first true exercise in branding (with Verizon holding the purse strings).

Verizon is still promoting its Droid (now family of) offerings, but not every carrier has been so diligent to deliver a captivating narrative.

Bucking this trend, of course, is Apple's iPhone, a single device with two variants. (No, I don't consider memory options to be different models. The story's the same.) So does the Palm Pre. And RIM's BlackBerry family is actually nicely edited: the company has seven models across all carriers, each with distinguishing features.

My point is that there's no fat here, no redundancies. But in Android world, there are handsets trying to leap over each other at every level, from the highest (Droid 2 vs. Evo vs. Nexus S) to the lowest (T-Mobile myTouch 3G vs. LG Optimus T vs. Motorola Flipout vs. ...well, does anyone care?).

From a consumer standpoint, it's very confusing, even if your carrier is already set in stone. If anything, it fosters the feeling of ambivalence -- and that's my point.

The market share of smartphones based on the Google Android platform may be growing larger every day, but the value of each individual handset plummets further with each new release. Awareness and recognition of the platform may be increasing, but the buying decision is no longer met with anticipation.

(I hope you're taking notes, Microsoft.)

Apple, RIM and Palm buyers do not have to ask the question, "Which one should I get next?"

Why can't the rest of us?

Topics: Telcos, Mobility

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

89 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Lack of choice is a good thing?

    You'd have loved to live behind the iron curtain.

    You just stick with Apple and leave Android to the big boys.
    Ronny102
    • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

      @Ronny102
      Exactly.

      Hm. There is a basic assumption the author is working on, from here: that is to say that he thinks "all" Android phones should be something special, or noteworthy.

      Rubbish.

      That's a very clear fallacy, and to essentially intimate that because there are 'so many' Android O/S based phones, that there's no standout, no meaningful Android phone. The author could make the same argument about myriad of choices available for PCs or Cars.

      I don't get why people get a nugget of an idea in their brain, then feel they have to share it even though there really is no merit to their personal belief.

      Android is not about a holy grail of a phone, it's about choices...choice...choices...choices. And as far as "meaninful" choice, would you consider a Ford Escort or a BMW M3 as a more 'meaningful' choice to make?

      Well, I can assure you that if all I made in a year was $30,000 that Ford Escort sure would seem very meaningful to ME.

      Get over yourself.
      joshdestardi@...
    • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

      @Ronny102 : for all apple fanboys like Applew Nusca, it is. They are always finding flaws with Apple competitors.
      nomorebs
      • Of course they are

        @nomorebs just like the Apple Haters always have to find something wrong with Apple products... Fanboyism isn't as limited to Apple as some of you like to think.
        athynz
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @athynz: last time I checked this thread was not about an Apple hater finding things wrong with an Apple product. is it? Or you couldn't resist the urge to be the Apple defender.
        nomorebs
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @nomorebs How exactly is what athynz said really any worse than what you said? You claim that Apple fanboys always have to find flaw in competitors but for some reason when anthynz brings up that they haters do the same it's an issue? He is absolutely right that fanboyism is not limited to Apple or any brand what so ever. If you are to much of a hater to see this OBVIOUS fact then he is talking about you.

        As far as choice goes, correct it is a good thing to have. We all have the choice to buy from whatever carrier we want offering whatever manufacturers phone running the particular OS we want. Some offer more choices for a particular manufacturer or OS than others but that doesn't mean we don't have a choice it what we get. There is a point though when too many starts to devalue most of them. The cream will always float to the top but for the average consumer too many offerings can be confusing.
        non-biased
    • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

      @Ronny102: well put...lol.
      umdaman
  • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

    And in other news, there are too many cars and too many versions of Windows 7.

    Move right along. Nothing to read here.
    Alan Henry
    • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

      @Alan Henry - lol. I wish there was just ONE kind of toothpaste so I wouldn't have to think at all! Yay! Now there is more time to praise the Steve.

      The t-mobile Comet which is panned in this article is a very zippy little device which you can get cheap on a contract or for $199 with no contract. Oh and the user can expand the flash memory, it can run homescreen widgets, multitask, and use voice actions.
      redhaven
  • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

    You know what else sucks? All the cereal brands at the supermarket. Why can't we have just one wheat cereal, one oat cereal, and one rice cereal?

    Choice sucks.
    gluonspring
    • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

      @gluonspring <br><br>Actually, I find myself spending way too long in the cereal section, scanning through all the variations (or should I say experiments).
      dave95.
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @dave95. <br><i>"Actually, I find myself spending way too long in the cereal section, scanning through all the variations (or should I say experiments)."</i><br><br>Case in point -- That's your choice. Send the wifey, she knows what you like, even if you don't.
        Alan Henry
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @dave95.

        With you on that - "analysis paralysis" kills me every time in the cereal aisle and the toothbrush section, among others. Studies have shown that you *can* have too much choice, which creates stress.
        rich1383
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @rich1383: great, do everybody a favor and don't go to the supermarket or buy anything. There you go, no more stressful choices for you.
        nomorebs
    • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

      @gluonspring Actually, the main point here is that choice is expensive. All those different models cost money to produce, even if they're built on common platforms.

      It's a lot like General Motors three years ago -- a ton of Buicks and Chevrolets and Cadillacs and Saturns and Saabs and Pontiacs, and not much to distinguish them.
      andrew.nusca
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @andrew.nusca <br><br>Stop digging while you are ahead. You may end up at the core of the earth.<br><br>It's been proven consumer want choice. That's the only power the consumer have (the choice to return it and get another one). Even if it's the same product with a different name.
        Alan Henry
      • GM's problem

        @andrew.nusca

        Was one of management, among other things. That any individual company was offering more choices than it could profitable support was/is NOT a problem for consumers.
        oncall
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @andrew.nusca
        No offense, but if that was the main point, it wasn't very clear.

        Any smartphone out there is head and shoulders over what we had just 3 years ago.
        joshdestardi@...
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @andrew.nusca : you are right. Too much choice is bad. That's why Apple sucks: too many iPod models, too many MacBook models. All that is expensive and stressful. That company is run by a bunch of ignorants and worshiped by buffoons like you.
        nomorebs
      • RE: Android ambivalence: the plight of too many Google phones

        @andrew.nusca It's not like general motors, not at all. General motors is a single company with indistinguishable brands. Android is a single operating system used by independent companies that truly compete with each other.

        The hardware choices differ quite considerably, from small to large screens, with keyboard, without keyboard, camera, GPS, plastic body, aluminum, amoled, led, .... you get designer phones and geek phones.... But they all share the simple android OS and android market....
        kikl