The Android dilemma: Too much choice, yet not enough

The Android dilemma: Too much choice, yet not enough

Summary: Android is everywhere and that's a good thing, except the one you want is often not where you can get it.


My Galaxy Nexus S 4G recently got the long-promised Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) update. It is so much better with the latest version of Android that I would never go back to an older version. Of course now my Nexus S 4G is old hardware, so it's not the dream phone it could be. Not many phones have ICS yet, and even though there are more Android phones out there than anything else, those wanting the best are out of luck.

Related: Android on 600 phones and tablets in less than 4 years

That is the ultimate problem with Android. There are too many phones to choose from, but few of them have everything that tech-savvy buyers want. If you find an Android phone that is just what you want, with the latest version of Android, odds are it's not available on your U. S. carrier of choice.

An article on Techfanatix sums up the situation nicely. The Gadget Mom, a friend of mine for a good while, voices her frustration with the "too much choice, yet not enough" situation. We both like Android, but getting it in the form and package we want is far too often out of reach. She sums it up succinctly:

"I am Joe Consumer, I walk into Verizon, and I’m faced with twenty two smartphones to look at. Twenty two. I ask the sales rep what’s the difference between them. They say… um… well, this one has a keyboard. This one has TouchWiz. This one has Sense. This one has Motoblur. This one has a big battery. This one is free. This one is cheap. This one has a Pentile display. This one has an AMOLED display, and this one has a super duper AMOLED display. At this point Joe is huddled in the corner crying like a baby and shaking. Make it stop."

All of these phones are nice in their particular way, but as she points out it can be overwhelming. It doesn't help that the OEMs of Android phones are beholden to the carriers and require variants of particular handsets just for their customers.

"HTC’s One phone is an X on AT&T, an S on TMobile, an Evo on Sprint, and Incredible on Verizon. That, my friends, is what it looks like when a manufacturer has no backbone. That is also what it looks like when there are too many choices."

Too much choice, yet for each individual there is usually not enough choice in play. You want that one special Android phone that fits all of your wants and needs perfectly, but you can't have it unless you switch carriers if at all. It's easy to see why technology lovers can be frustrated.

Related posts:

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Security

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  • James' Android Hate Continues!


    I have enjoyed your posts since the early days of jkontherun, but your conversion to all things Apple (and corresponding abandonment of anything new with Android) is making for some stale articles. You have written many times about Android fragmentation and repeatedly argued that the plethora of Android devices available is a bad thing. How about an article criticizing Apple for making its loyal customers accept a small screen and no 4g while paying premium pricing when the market has proven that many people prefer larger screens and a fast connection. You have been using Apple devices for months and yet you never talk about the downside of the ecosystem. undoubtedly, there are many great things about the iPhone and iPad, but there are negatives too.

    just saying....
    • No hate here

      From the article:

      "My Galaxy Nexus S 4G recently got the long-promised Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) update. It is so much better with the latest version of Android that I would never go back to an older version."

      I point out things that affect consumers and Android. That is not hate, I absolutely love my Nexus S 4G. I do want the Android situation to get better, and very much. That's not hate, that is wanting to see it shine the best it possibly can.

      As far as Apple "making" customers do anything-- they don't. Customers will not accept what they don't want, at least not millions and millions of them. That holds true for any product and company. You must give customers what they want or they will not buy. That is a fact.
      • ...

        Don't misunderstand. I agree that Android is not perfect. I just can't recall a truly positive article about Android since you made the iPhone and iPad your daily drivers. Likewise, I cannot recall seeing you write anything critical of Apple during this time. I have been a loyal reader for a long while and just thought I would offer my thoughts about this trend. I will certainly continue to read your articles (they have been in my Reader feed for years), but I miss the days when you had no devotion to any manufacturer and gave equal love/hate to all companies. As for my example of Apple "making" its customers buy a phone at a premium for a small screen and no 4g in this day and age, you are sidestepping the issue. My point was simply that Apple has arguably the most loyal customer base of any consumer brand, charges a premium price and fails to offer any choice in the way of iPad and iPhone devices, even with regard to 4g capability - a standard on many other manufacturers entry level devices. I know the sales speak for themselves, but isn't it at all troubling to a tech commentator when a manufacturer fails to deliver a cutting edge device because it knows people will buy whatever it releases?
      • I don't agree

        For you to say that millions and millions would not accept something they do not want is for you to say that the millions who have jail broken their phone did not accept something they did not want.

        The fact of the matter is that with technology, there is always some form of trade off. There WILL be something you don't want and you WILL get it as long as the good out weights the bad.
      • correction...

        Its not a Galaxy Nexus S 4G it is a Google/Samsung Nexus S 4G, FYI... I don't want to sound like I'm being over naggy but the Nexus name is already being tarnished by so many "journalist" online I just hope that the phone owners know what they have and what they can do. You have, at least what I think, one of the Top Android phones of its time. It is still a timeless device running the latest and greatest version of Android. Your phone is beautiful and a time piece for its era. The curved display is magnificent.

        * I was not paid to write this. I am a devoted Android Fanboy with the sole purpose to spread the word of the Nexus Brand name. :)
      • No hate here?

        "At this point Joe is huddled in the corner crying like a baby and shaking. Make it stop.???
        God forbid Joe Consumer ever has to decide what car to buy. Or which TV to choose. It takes some serious iTwisting to make more choices into a liability.
      • That's fine... but...

        First off, *which* consumers? You're focussed on the tech savvy types... which is fair enough - but is hardly representative of most phone users.

        Second off, you're engaging in a kind of odd filtering here. Android fails for you because you can't find the exact combination of features you want on the carriers you want. Also fair enough..

        Except that you've also argued FOR the iPhone which I find strange since it comes in exactly two models - almost identical with the same OS. If you want more - forget it. If you want different - forget it. Sure, it's almost everywhere - but it's a very limited choice.

        As for apps, while I agree - Goog really has to get some quality control in there - let's not forget the literally thousands of minimalist webscraper apps that get dumped into the App Store... it got so bad that one company was flooding with hundreds of them a week until Apple finally said they'd had enough.

        I think the problem here isn't that your opinion is wrong - it's that it's weirdly inconsistent - arbitrarily favoring Apple and giving them a break while obsessing with what many of (if not most of) us consider small beans on the Android side.

        In the end, we get it. You have issues with Android. But there's a find line between serious criticism and just looking for complaints... I think if you were singling out the *problems* regardless of who is doing it rather than going on what often feels like an Android witchhunt, we'd probably be more accepting of your opinions.

        As for problems: "That holds true for any product and company. You must give customers what they want or they will not buy. That is a fact." Yes. It is - and as has been repeated over and over - Android holds around 50% of the market to Apple's 30%. Clearly, more customers are ok with Android than Apple. Even in tablets, Android has gone from nothing to 35% of the market in barely a year. If your conjecture is correct, that implies it is APPLE who has to change, not Google. You might want to listen to your own opinion here...

        My 2c for what it's worth.
      • Some consolidation is likely inevitable...

        I would think that some consolidation of options and manufacturers will be coming soon. I think ICS will hopefully be stable for some time and allow phone manufacturers to step back and look at their offerings and start to slim down SOME models. I think that a little consolidation for Android is O.K., but not to the point of iPhone limitations. I just recently got a Google/Samsung Galaxy Nexus unlocked and am very happy with it. I took it to England, bought a pay as you go SIM and it served me well, even with a lowly 5 MP camera it took great pics, Google Maps was extremely useful, I had London Tube App for Free, ...
        Options are always a bit more confusing that one size fits all, but I like my options.
      • IPhone 3, 3G 4, etc...

        James you could easily make this same argument with the IPhone. The new IOS would have been so much better for earlier IPhones, but now that's old hardware. My 2005 Ford F-150 would have been so much better with an ECO boost motor, and on and on. Like IOS, Android continues to improve. Trying to diss it just because this version wasn't the first version, means you should be dissing IPhone's because the first phone wasn't as good as this one.

        You push Apple products even though Android phones far outsell them. using your logic the IPhone is the inferior product because customers have overwhelmingly bought Android over IOS.
      • LOL

        You get one choice with iOS, iphone.. haha
      • Do an article on the down side of the Apple ecosystem

        It's time you write about the negatives of the Apple ecosystem. A well thought out piece would be refreshing, and is sorely needed.
      • ...

        Apple user except what apple tells them they have to. The average Apple consumer knows very little about technology and just buys the new Apple item as they feel they now have to in order to keep up with the sheeple they know. If you use android and apple you d never go back to apple ios ever as it is so old feeling, the iphone is ancient and so far behind. Its very sterile and no personalized. So yeah apple users do buy what apple tells them since they do not think for themselves.
    • He makes a good point

      [i]If you find an Android phone that is just what you want, with the latest version of Android, [b]odds are its not available on your U. S. carrier of choice.[/b][/i]

      I have that problem with WP7 - All Verizon had was the HTC Trophy. Sure I got everything that the Lumia over at AT&T had (the nature of the OS, I guess) but the fact that to get the phone that I want I would have to move to a different carrier?

      Maybe his rant should have been less Android, and more about the carrier industrty as a whole.

      Though at the moment the handset overload is more an Android problem, not much of an issue with WP7 or iPhone.
      William Farrel
      • +10

        The first ZDnet journalist that writes an intelligent, honest, and in-depth article about how awful the carrier industry is in the US, I will instantly become one of their fans. *Until they go and write something incredibly awful shortly after.

        In an economy where people have to make really hard decisions, why can't the media start showing people how to save a bit of money every month? My sister-in-law is moving away to a remote part of the state to finish up her college degree. She hates her Metro PCS phone (that supposedly has coverage for talk/text only) and is going to start paying probably double every month for Verizon- she's cool with the service. I have to have my wife talk to her about using Straight Talk (aka Verizon's network in that location) since she knows I despise paying high rates for my cell service. She would save $50 a month, which for a college student, is a lot of money.

        I bought my Lumia 710 off-contract at T-Mobile. Since I don't watch videos/movies or stream music, I don't care that I only get 100mb at 4G/HSPA+, plus I'm on WiFi most of the time I want to watch a quick YouTube video. I pay $50 for unlimited, talk, text and web. Even if I did do lots of streaming, I could pay $60/month and get 2gigs of 4G and still be saving a considerable amount of money. Including the cost of my phone, I'll still save close to $1,000 over two years.

        It's interesting to me to see the marketshare of phones in Europe and other countries that make you pay full price for a phone, but give you more flexibility and better rates on your service. I believe I read a week or two ago that Windows Phone in Russia has more marketshare than the iPhone. If carriers had to compete on service quality and rates as opposed to the phones they carried, customers would have a double win.
      • @ikissfutebol + @will farrel - I agree

        So, the argument should be framed against our gov for lack of regulation of the industry which is strong in Europe and elsewhere. The business model that we have here forces carriers to compete dog eat dog. Mobile mfgs cannot roll out a new model without specific agreements due to lack of infrastructure, etc. No standards = chaos. It's the american way.
      • Try Ebay

        You can get any model phone unlocked or you can get the phone you like from another carrier and get the unlock code online. Plenty of forums out there where you can learn about your specific technology. If you can understand this article then you can understand info found of forums. If it is GSM it is as easy as swapping out a sim card on an unlocked phone. I have done it. My cdma phone I just rooted. Took me one youtube video to see how to do it. The more you learn technology the better for you. It is not going away and will get more complex.
      • Except...

        You never hear them complain that you can't get the iPhone with the features you want...

        There are only two - almost identical units - and they're carried by everyone. It's the same problem, just the other way around. If you want an iPhone, no problem. If you want the iPhone with some additional newer tech feature (like NFC or IRBlaster) - you're out of luck.

        Yet no one seems to harp on about that problem...
      • HUH?

        "It's interesting to me to see the marketshare of phones in Europe and other countries that make you pay full price for a phone"

        I got a free HTC One X with better rates than you i.e with real unlimited data not capped. Must have download 20 gig already this month on "3G/HPSA+"
    • "when the market has proven that"

      I'm not sure that the market has proven anything other than (1) "Apple sells a lot of iPhones" and (2) "a lot of people like Android's different variants." But what this particular article says rings very true for me: the choices faced by a potential Android customer are just as confusing as when all that was available years ago was myriad of dumbphone options. Now there's a myriad of Android options. If you're not tech savvy it's a problem. Bashing Apple's success won't make the problem any less. Apple has just done a better job of managing customer experience and expectatations for non-geeks (and for tech-savvy people like me who just want stuff to work). Would it be possible for Android vendors to do a better job of managing customer experience and expectations? Of course it would, but I suspect that attempts to seriously simplify Android for the masses will be looked on with scorn by serious Android fans, and that's a real marketing problem given the need for a customer base and developer support. (Also, I don't appreciate it when Android supporters think I'm an idiot because I use an iPhone, but that's another issue.)
      • Android is 58% of the market Apple 27%

        You have more people who embrace Android than Apple 2 to 1. Try Comscore as a source. What's happening is Apple users are getting left behind in understanding technology. Case and point, 600,000 Mac users got hit with a Trojan that made the author $10,000 a day. Why Apple users are oblivious to the reality of computing. Heck you don't even have flash.