MWC 2012: The Android arms race is heating up

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, Smartphones, Security, Samsung, Processors, Mobile OS, iPad, Hardware, Apple, Tablets


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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  • that's called innovation

    and growing the ecosystem.
    LlNUX Geek
    • You just don't get the article

      It's called android cannibalization. And the author makes a good point.
      • ???????!!!!!!!!!!

        WTF?! This is without a doubt the worse, most biased 'tech' article i have EVER read! First of all, WHEN has any of the top Android phone manufacturers EVER had to play catch-up to iphone's specs?! Lol! C'mon now! The iphone has been outdated ever since the original motorola droid came out over 2yrs ago! The iphone is ALWAYS the last smartphone on the market with the latest technology! Consider this: iphone 4s- has a dual-core that's not even a full ghz, doesn't have 4G, doesn't have NFC, doesn't support adobe flash, doesn't have expandable memory, has a small screen that's NOT HD, can't swap batteries, encased in glass so it's very fragile, and has only 512mb of ram!!! Even the low-end Android phones are more powerful than the latest iphone! And that's just its subpar hardware! And ios 5, with its lack of widgets and customization, has so many limits to what its capable of compared to Android that its a joke to even compare the two! Appearantly the writer of this article flat-out lied about being a "hard core Android fan" because he would know these things!...and do you realize how ridiculous it sounds to complain about rapid electronic technology advancement?! If everybody thought like him we would all be still riding in horse driven stagecoaches!
      • Sameness of product offerings but fragmentation of the OS

        @jason perlow: just stick to your iPhone and shut up. Your opinions about Android are useless if not matter what, you get the same **a-priori** conclusion "my iPhone is better than your Android, la la la la la"
      • I think that you are making a mountain out of a molehill.

        First, there has always been an arms race with desktops, laptops and components. That arms race has mostly benifited the consumer.

        The only time I am seriously concerned about hardware stats is when I am in the market to purchase. Once I have purchased and I am satisfied, then I deal with what I have until the next itch cycle for the next purchase. Between itch cycles I am just curious about hardware improvements in the industry, fantasizing about my next purchase.

        Second, it is the same with my phone. Yes I am interested in the new tech being developed but in general the typical person out there is locked into their contract and have other things to worry about than how many different models of phone they do not have and will not need until the contract runs out. Other than idle curiosity, most people do not care much about how many different phones are on the market.

        I believe that most consumers that are not techies care very little about all the different hardware on the market, until their contract is up and they are again in the market for new hardware.

        Try this, go find the local English teacher (non-techie English teacher) and ask them what they think about all the different models of Droid phones. Chances are they will get a glazed look over their eyes and respond with a confused, ???What???? Don???t ask around your circle of friends because chances are most of your friends are techies. Ask the general people of the world, most of which are not techies.

        In general the typical person does not care how many video cards are available for purchase, they do not care much about how many different car models are available for purchase, they do not care much about how many different laptops are available for purchase, etc. . . . In general the typical person only cares about droid phone stats when it comes time to purchase a phone, and then they are only interested until the purchase is complete and while they show off their shiny new toy, then they go back to treating the phone as a useful tool and mostly ignore the tech industry until the need for the next purchase.
  • There is another team ;-)

    My over 1 year old WP7 phone is still smoother than any of the Android phones and has a much better interface. Had all the software updates with Mango bringing some great new features and it now appears I'll be getting Tango as well.

    It integrated well with my business and social needs and I've also developed an app for it and the development system is great. The fact that it's backed by the maker of the world's OS with a reputation for backward compatibility is even better. My battery lasts 3 days, my camera works immediately (even with the phone off) and the speech recognition is fine. All of the essential functions are built-in without the need to purchase apps, but there's plenty of those if you want them. It's also slim and light and slips easily into a pocket or purse without the need for a clunky case.

    I've had no bugs and the rare ones I've read about get fixed in the updates. As to the need for speed, 3G is more than adequate for the rare times when I'm not in range of one of my home, business or retail WiFi networks which my phone automatically connects to.

    I can understand some people may have an allergic reaction to the use of tiles (although why live tiles are worse than endless grids of static icons is beyond me) but in doing so you miss the sophistication of the interface with its dynamic display of information and the use of hubs. I can only recommend that people get over it, as the new Win 8 will bring this UI to most of the world's computers over the coming years.

    Perhaps Android would be better aiming higher than Apple's ancient interface and give us something better than Metro ;-)
    • Progress

      "WP7" - were you around when we WM users were jettisoned? It's all the same materialistic 3-card Monty, no matter what OS. You bite, then the support goes away. I may still have my Apple II in the attic that was wiped out by the Mac. We are all brutalized by the latest inflated fad. They will feed your addiction long enough to burn their logo into your mind so you think their next iteration is a must have.
      • I was a WM user

        Used it for years. Had a smartphone when the iPhone didn't exist. Had no trouble moving to WP7 and am much happier with WP7.
    • I somewhat agree

      I like all three companies and all 5 OSs (Android, WP7, iOS, Win7, and OS10). The one thing I will say about MS is that they are trying to integrate all their devices with the same interface. Metro is on WP7, the Xbox360, and on Win8. They also have a double-edged sword in the fact that few phones have WP7 on them. This reduces fragmentation and allows the updates to be made easier. As much as I love the fact that Android is Open, (to a degree), it's a lot easier to update a device when the hardware fits the phone. Phone companies need to generalize their installations of Android. a hypervisor would remove the need to test the new updates on every hardware version. Only the hypervisor would need testing. This would also remove the fragmentation issue all together (I think). Andrid is a great platform... when it is maintained correctly.
    • Tried it but...

      Maybe I'll try it again when it grows up.
      Missing functionality I need.
  • I totally agree with you

    I am a huge Android fan. I had Motorola, Samsung, HTC. But the way these companies going is totally wrong. My current phone HTC Sensation is the worst htc product in the market. It is constantly soft booting. Battery last 5 hours with no heavy use. I am considering to move to Iphone. I know, I my self was a big advocate of Android but I agree everything you said about the way this is going and trust me I have friends who was hardcore android users and they already switched to IOS. I think I will be next.
    • Same Ol' Problem

      Duplicate :O
    • Same Ol' Problem

      Do some research before you buy and buy what matches your requirements.
      You should end up with a short list.
      And do some research!
      There were a couple of phones I liked and didn't get due to research. I read about some of the issues and shortcomings. It was time well spent.

      When I went from the iPhone 4 to a SGS2 it was an informed concious decision. Now I have a great phone.

      If you feal that strongly go get an iPhone. Bet you'll be whining about the "issues" and all because you didn't do your homework.
  • You should not have complimented Apple in this article.

    For to many it will invalidate your points (honest and true as they maybe) By pointing to Apple as a company that often does it's customer service and products lines correctly you instantly become an Apple Fanboy and any claim to admiration for the goals of Android fade to meaningless irregardless of past history with said products and ownership use of them. Now granted your article might have even without the references to Apple sparked some to comment that you are shilling for Apple or part of the cabal trying to destroy Android but still the Apple references only added fuel to the fire. Apple is evil don't you know:)

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
    • Said the Apple shareholder

      jim the worshipper
  • Agree with all said.

    The highlight however was the reference to Colonel Klink's monocle.
    A Grain of Salt
  • YMMV

    This is really odd. You say your Samsung Galaxy Nexus is "buggy as hell" and you get 3 hours of battery life?

    It sounds like you're doing something wrong.

    I also have the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. My battery lasts all day and I haven't had ANY technical issues with it. I had more problems with my Motorola Droid (which has left a really bad taste in my mouth for anything Motorola), and even more problems with my iPhone before that. It just makes me wonder what someone could do to (or with) their phone to have such an astronomically different experience than another.

    Did you root yours? Did you completely replace a significant portion of the OS with some sort of customizing app? Maybe you have a defective device and just need to replace it in warranty? Thoughts?
    • Pretty similar for me

      I have had a Motorola Atrix for the last year and the battery last the day without problems. Overall the phone always work perfectly for me. I can say the same for at least 2 other people around me who have samsung android phone (S2 and Galaxy Nexus).
    • Device is not modified or rooted in any way.

      It's a stock Verizon Galaxy Nexus. Untouched. Only apps loaded from Google Android Market and Amazon Appstore. The system randomly reboots at least twice a week and I've had some stability problems with it. This is not uncommon for ICS particularly on the Nexus if you speak to any number of Galaxy Nexus users.

      I have other rooted devices, but those are specifically for testing purposes, and as a general rule I don't root Android devices that I buy until the warranty itself has expired.
      • Sound like you have a flakey unit

        I have over 100 apps on my Galaxy Nexus, use it regularly throughout the day, and I'm totally happy with it. I do have the 2100mAh battery, but I get better than all day life. The charger at my desk, bought to give my O. G. Droid the occasional afternoon pick-me-up, I used once... with the Nexus; I had neglected to charge it the night before. And at least at my office in Philly, I'm getting very good 4G performance and battery life. l see 3-4 bars in places in my building that are just plain questionable on 3G at all. I have yet to see the cellular modem, either mode, account for more than about 5% battery use. Have you checked your real use, or are you just guessing? It's certainly possible to get much less runtime, but in my experience, only by cranking the display up to full... true of any modern smartphone.

        I have seen the occasional app crash, but within the Google apps, far less than with Honeycomb, maybe on par with Gingerbread. The only real problem: "Plants vs Zombies" is still buggy as hell. But that's a PopCap problem.