2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

Summary: In 2011 Google's Android brought us splits in versions, open source commitment, carrier and OEM implementations, preferred device vendors and application ecosystems.

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As an avid Android user, 2011 is a year I hope that we never have to repeat.

For all of the progress Android has made in the last year in establishing itself as the leading smartphone operating system, commanding over a 46 percent market share according to comScore in its Q3 findings and sending RIM and its BlackBerry well on its way towards platform irrelevance, so many other distracting things went on that kept it from fully realizing its true potential.

In modern psychiatric medicine, the term "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (or DID for short) is used to describe what is commonly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder -- a rare mental illness in which a human being manifests distinctly different and separate personalities in their own brain, each of which have their own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment.

Awareness of the condition was first popularized with the 1974 novel and then the 1976 NBC television miniseries "Sybil" starring actress Sally Field, which was re-made in 2007 with Tammy Blanchard reprising the title role.

The Year in Review, the Year Ahead

If you could sum up what was wrong with Android in 2011, this despite it having achieved the market leading platform position in the mobile industry, Dissociative Identity Disorder just about describes it exactly. Here's why.

Split Smartphone and Tablet Personalities

The first and most easily recognizable dissociative identity problem is that for the past year, we've had entirely different versions of Android for smartphones and for tablets -- Gingerbread (2.3.x) and Honeycomb (3.x).

This has not only caused confusion in the marketplace where we've had both Gingerbread and Honeycomb used in tablets (the most notable Gingerbread tablet being the Amazon Kindle Fire, that has already sold in the millions of units) but we've also had confusion as far as to which Android versions developers should be targeting their application development efforts towards in the first place.

None of these dissociative identity problems have really helped Android at all. Because there were more products with 2.x implementations of Android in the wild than 3.x, developers really didn't write many tablet-optimized Android apps in 2011.

This is because everyone who was focused on application development was waiting for that single unifying version for smartphones and tablets, Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, which was only very recently released into the wild.

A Split Commitment to Open Source

As if having two distinctly different versions of Android in the wild to address two different target device formats wasn't painful enough, Google also decided to withhold the Honeycomb 3.x source code from developers, which potentially damaged their relationship with the Open Source community in the process.

The full reasons why the Honeycomb source was withheld in 2011 from developers is not quite understood, but I have my own theories. By only restricting the source code to licensed OEMs making tablet devices, Google thought perhaps it could prevent further fractionalization.

Google also knew that its tablet implementation of the OS wasn't ready for prime time and thus by witholding the source, it prevented heavy proliferation of a half-baked, buggy tablet implementation before Ice Cream Sandwich could hit the streets at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the inability of the developer community to participate in the Open Source process probably resulted in quite a bit of bad blood and and very well may have set back the progress of Android becoming a leading tablet OS by at least a year if not more.

Ice Cream Sandwich's source code was released in mid-November of 2011 and the community is already hard at work adapting it and improving it for various hardware platforms.

It's too bad none of that developer activity couldn't have started 9 months ago with Honeycomb.

A Split Universe Between Google and Amazon Ecosystems

Not to be deterred by Google's own dissociative identity problems with Android, Amazon went off on its own tangent and released Amazon Appstore for Android.

At first this was perceived as strictly a monetization play in order to piggyback on existing Android devices in order to leverage the growing Amazon ecosystem. Eventually, everyone found out what was actually the real reason for its existence was -- to provide the basis for an entirely different Android tablet universe from Amazon, in the form of the Kindle Fire.

Given that Amazon was not a OEM partner of Google's, and it wanted to produce its own tablet, it decided to go with the most current Open Source version of the OS available -- Gingerbread.

I was well aware this was the case long before the Kindle Fire was even announced, and my own predictions actually came very close to reality.

Amazon's implementation of Android, which I've previously nicknamed "Kindlebread" is a fork of the Open Source 2.3 Gingerbread code, but includes special APIs specifically for Amazon's use as well as a new UI layer and a special Amazon cloud-enabled browser named Silk.

Much like Apple has done for their iOS devices, the Kindle Fire's Appstore is curated, so as to prevent the introduction of malware, incompatibilities and badly performing applications into their ecosystem, something that the official Google Android Market lacks.

The jury is out as to whether or not Amazon's ecosystem will be successful, and frankly it's too early to tell. However it is estimated that millions of Kindle Fires have been sold during the holiday season and as many as twelve million may be sold in the next calendar year.

That's a lot of devices for Amazon to load up with apps and content, any way you look at it.

Assuming that the "Official" licensed Android tablets from the usual OEMs continue with a similar growth curve in 2012, Kindle Fire is still on track to become the top Android tablet device brand in North America and the world.

The sad thing is that all of this could have been Google and its OEMs domain.

Splits Between Preferred OEMs and Carrier Implementations

The wide proliferation of shovelware, varied implementations of Android versions and the overall inability to get software updates rolled out by the carriers and by the hardware manufacturers despite Google's stated commitment to rectify this problem back in May at Google I/O is another form of fractionalization that hurt Android in 2011 and projected an overall feeling of Multiple Personality Disorder.

As if everything documented in this article isn't enough to put a bad taste in everyone's mouth, 2011 also saw Google drive a wedge between itself and its Android handset/tablet OEMs by announcing back in August that it was going to purchase Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion.

Many industry observers (including our own Editor-in-Chief) saw this as a sensible decision, particularly for its potential in being an excellent mobile patent play as well as for improvements in vertical integration.

Indeed, both of these are areas in which competitor Apple currently holds the upper hand -- but Google hasn't done a particularly good job in communicating to the industry what it exactly plans to do with Motorola's device subsidiary when and if the purchase is approved by the US and EU governments.

Will Motorola end up with a "Most Favored Nation" status that will give it privileged access to Android code and other Google ICAP? Right now, Motorola seems to be in a bit of a limbo area.

Motorola's latest and greatest Android handset and tablet devices such as Droid Bionic, Droid Razr and Droid Xyboard so far have been subject to the same carrier shovel-ware abuse as all the other brands, and are lax in getting these devices upgraded to the current Ice Cream Sandwich software.

To add insult to injury, instead of Motorola, Google decided to use Samsung for its "Google Experience" smartphone with the Galaxy Nexus that launched this last week. Post-Merger, is Motorola going to be producing the Google Experience devices? We don't know.

Will Motorola only be producing Google Experience devices? We don't know.

Will Motorola continue to make hardware at all, or simply become a technology foundry for OEMs like Samsung, HTC and LG in order to provide vertical integration services? We don't know.

In here lies the problem. Nobody knows what's going to happen to Motorola, and Google hasn't done a very good job of calming its partners that are naturally feeling extremely edgy about the entire thing.

Will Google find a way to cure Android's Dissociative Identity Disorder in 2012? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Wi-Fi, Android, Google, Mobility, Networking, Open Source, Smartphones, Software Development, Tablets

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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82 comments
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  • Jeez, at first I thought you were throwing up a Star Trek reference

    As the Wiki points out, there is controversy about DID and Sybil's personalities might not have been as distinct as portrayed.

    Otherwise, I agree with your conclusions about Google. It's as if Android is still in Beta.
    Mac Hosehead
    • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

      YAWN! Give it a rest with the Android bashing. These articles have been posted a zillion times before. Android is what it is, buy an iPhone and shut up.
      bradavon
      • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

        @bradavon It's almost as old as the iPhone bashing.
        athynz
      • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

        @bradavon Better yet buy a Windows Phone Mango and upgrade to a better experience!!
        jatbains
      • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

        @bradavon The whole of Google behaves as if it's still in beta. It's like a parent with a difficult child refusing to eat breakfast until ALL the options have been laid out for it to try! So, as well as a case of multiple personalities, it's also a case of lack of maturity.

        Personally I'm very disappointed. But something began to rot at Google some time back. Do we blame the adult supervision - leading that double game over at Infinite Loop? Larry did end up replacing him. Do we blame the duo themselves? Or do we blame whoever is in charge of the very very confused Android experiments?

        Well, I WAS disappointed. But now I no longer care. I predict their game will peak and implode soon. But one thing is certain, several players in the handset game are about to fold... or go begging for a style Nokia deal up in Redmond - which pretty much means the same thing.
        Graham Ellison
    • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

      @Mac Hosehead Jason, I agree with your overall assessment of Android in 2011, but not your conclusion. It's not an issue of multiple personalities, it's an issue of growth. More like going through puberty, if you will. And it will only get better. Just look at Ice Cream Sandwich. The reviews are almost universally positive that it's going in the right direction. 2012 will be the year of Adult Android. :)

      However, I don't agree that having the Amazon marketplace is a negative as you imply. It's great to have more than one marketplace. It's fit perfectly into the Android model of open access. I also love the free app per day on Amazon.
      mrxxxman
      • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

        I agree. Android is slowly beginning to mature. I own both Android and Apple devices, and The only thing failing Android, (my opinion), is a managed app store. Hardware vendors are still feeling their way with Android and some will fail, others will get it right. The same could be said about Windows back in the 90's. Let's wait and see who innovates, provides suitable security and listens to what people want. 2012 should be very interesting. Pity about Win Phone 7. Wish MS could become relevant and cool again.
        MovingOn.Pmb
      • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

        I agree. Android is slowly beginning to mature. I own both Android and Apple devices, and The only thing failing Android, (my opinion), is a managed app store. Hardware vendors are still feeling their way with Android and some will fail, others will get it right. The same could be said about Windows back in the 90's. Let's wait and see who innovates, provides suitable security and listens to what people want. 2012 should be very interesting. Pity about Win Phone 7. Wish MS could become relevant and cool again.
        MovingOn.Pmb
  • Oh man!!!

    You are definitely brave ...... fandroids are pretty soon coming out in drones to kill you.

    Sad part is that 100% of you you are saying is true .... but fandroids will deny it to hell and back.
    wackoae
    • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

      @wackoae
      +1
      Ram U
    • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

      @wackoae +1000
      Champ_Kind
  • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

    How many ways can Zdnet write Android is not an Iphone.

    Accept it for what it is, not what you want it to be.
    Return_of_the_jedi
    • But it has obvious faults that need to be fixed.

      @Return_of_the_jedi And simply repeating the claim that it is "open" wont fix it. Right now, Fandroid is only popular because its the only alternative to iPhone and its the only OS supporting 4G LTE.

      Android could be much better, let's hope Google listens to all the complaints.
      otaddy
      • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

        @otaddy My Android phone just automatically downloaded and update that completly changed everything and eliminated my contact list. I had to dig out my old phone and take both of them to ACS so they could download my contact list out of my old phone and reinstall it on my Android. It turned on apps that I didnt want or use which caused the battery to die in 4 or 5 hours. Not at all happy with Motorola. Nokia phones were always the best but ACS doesnt use them.
        gswank54@...
      • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

        @otaddy

        Google needs a way to distribute their spyware. As soon as most users realize this, Android will be history.

        Amazon, on the other hand utilizes 'Android' for what it is - an embedded Linux variant. In order to make it useful, they built whatever UI and API they needed on top of it --- by the way, just as Apple did with iOS and MacOS X on top of BSD UNIX.
        danbi
    • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

      @Return_of_the_jedi I thought Android was whatever you wanted it to be... a handset OS, a tablet OS, a TV OS, a STB OS, or a desktop/laptop/netbook OS.
      Champ_Kind
    • RE: 2011: The year Android had Multiple Personality Disorder

      @Return_of_the_jedi couldn't be said in a better way, thanks dude.
      runnerup
  • Been waiting for this one

    Good write up!

    3 needs to diiiieee......
    The latest of 2 is good......
    4 going forward......

    Maybe, just maybe we can finally see a bit of stability?
    rhonin
    • and not to leave it out.....

      @rhonin

      I'm not sure which is worse....
      Chaotic Android or Ho-Hum iOS?
      rhonin
  • Then Grab a Nexus

    The Google Nexus Prime runs Android 4.0, ice cream sandwich, and is available by Verizon. You don't have to purchase any Gingerbread phones if you don't want to, but many will receive the update to ICS if their phone was purchased this past summer. Meaning that their hardware is possibly compatible with the newer OS. Tablet... well I'm not seeing any love there. They probably will not depending on their manufacturer.

    Personally I think Android is the greatest and still contains the most potential for any future ideas, innovations, etc.
    Maarek