The innocence of Android fans

The innocence of Android fans

Summary: For over two years I was seduced by the tremendous potential of Google's Open Source mobile operating system. Until I finally realized many of Android's redeeming features were perverted by the lies of false prophets.

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andyrubin-prophet620pxThis week, I decided I finally had enough. After almost three years as an Android smartphone user, I ordered an out of contract, full-retail Verizon iPhone 5, just like my ZDNet colleague Matt Miller, in order to preserve my unlimited data plan.

I know, Jews aren't supposed to pay full retail for anything. But bear with me.

Why did I do it? Well, in all honesty, I probably would have done it a year earlier had the iPhone 4S had LTE capability. But 4G was a highly important consideration for me, so at the time I traded in my original Motorola Droid for a Droid Bionic.

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It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Bionic was Verizon's flagship LTE phone, and Motorola had promised that it would get a next-generation software upgrade from 2.3 "Gingerbread" to 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich."

Verizon was also willing to grandfather me as a business customer from my unlimited 3G to unlimited 4G, and I could use my phone to Wi-Fi tether my laptop and tablets when I was on the road and use it as portable mobile broadband hotspot.

I liked the Bionic, for a time. Indeed, it heated up real good when LTE was running and it chewed up a battery charge like a Bugatti Veyron depletes its gas tank, but after several months of using the product I came to the sad realization that Motorola was effectively lying to me. 

The promised Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade? Wasn't going to happen anytime soon. It's now the end of the 3rd quarter of 2012, one year after I purchased that phone, and it still hasn't been updated.

And now the Android world has already moved onto version 4.1, Jelly Bean. So when the Bionic does get its software update, it will already be outdated.

Oh, but it gets better.

In October of 2011, Samsung and Google announced the Galaxy Nexus, which would be the first phone to use Android 4.0, and would be exclusive to Verizon in the US. And as we all know, the Nexus is supposed to be "The" Google Phone, that is supposed to get updates to the latest OS firmware before anything else on the market.

So being the technology writer I am, and wanting to stay current with the industry, I used my wife's Verizon handset upgrade -- which had become avaliable around the time of the Galaxy Nexus's release -- to purchase a Galaxy Nexus. My wife got handed down the Bionic, which more than suited her needs and replaced her aging first generation Droid, and I got the new shiny new Android 4.0 phone.

Everyone was happy.

Well, not really. I soon discovered that the Galaxy Nexus was rife with bugs. The device crashed constantly and I am now on my second hardware replacement because I've had two lemon phones in a row, according to Verizon's tech support.

The Jelly Bean update that the so-called Google Experience "pure" Android phone was supposed to get months ago? It's finally rolling out from Verizon this week, after Google got it out to GSM Galaxy Nexus customers in Europe in early July. 

Great. Just in time for me to hand it down to my wife when I activate my iPhone 5. So much for the great Nexus experiment.

How the hell did this happen to me? Wasn't Android this fantastic open source mobile operating system that was going to leverage all of Google's online assets and give me superior choices of hardware to buy than what was being offered by the folks in Cupertino?

And how in the course of a year did I go from Android evangelist to Android fatalist?

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Before we go down that road, I want to state that I have nothing against the Android Open Source community and its developers. These folks are the unsung heroes of our industry, the one-man shops and small collaborative projects who code for the benefit of many, often whose efforts go unappreciated and uncompensated.

Neither do I have anything against Google nor the Cloud services it offers. In fact, I'm a long time user of their offerings and have no intention of abandoning them anytime soon. I use them on my Windows and Mac desktops as well as my iOS and Android devices interchangeably and with vigor.

The problem I have with Android as it stands today, at least from those of us who became full-blown fans and expoused the benefits of it to our friends, family and co-workers -- is that the second it leaves Google's code repository and is made avaliable to OEMs and wireless carriers, who then make derivative products out of it, it goes from being kosher to becoming trayf.

(I just thought I'd throw in that little bit of Yiddish to go with the overwhelmingly biblical and Rubinesque header graphic, which I thought was appropriate for the Ten Days of Repentence during the Jewish High Holidays.)

What I'm trying to get at is there is a perfect image of what Android is supposed to be, what Google and Android's staunchest adherents purport it to be, and then there is Android as it is practiced in reality. 

Android as it is being sold to you by OEMs and wireless carriers is a lie. It is Android interpreted and regurgitated as perverted scripture from false prophets.

If Android were practiced by OEMs and carriers from a "fundamentalist" standpoint, then we would have no such thing as fragmentation, and it would not take months or the better part of a year to receive software updates after the latest code from Google is released.

And dare I say it, if Google's Open Handset Alliance actually meant anything or were even effective at its mission, quite possibly many of the utility patent infringement complaints that formed the basis of the most recent Apple lawsuit against Samsung would not have come to light.

Without question there would still have been some infringement to consider, particularly in the area of industrial design and trade dress covered by Apple's design patents, but the impact of the lawsuit would have been minimized.

The problem is you cannot have an Open Source operating system which can then be modified and turned into derivative products and then attempt to maintain standardization and a reasonable update schedule.

Look at it from the perspective of the OEM and their carrier partners. If your Android operating system works and looks just like everyone else's Android -- the pure Google Experience device -- then where's the value?

The only way it seems an OEM or a carrier can create value add is to contaminate the code with their own crappy add-ins, and to engage in a never-ending arms race of hardware feature comeuppances with your competitors on a quarterly or monthly basis.

This introduces complexities in releasing updates to your products and making your customers eternally frustrated due to an accelerated cycle of obsolecense, making them more inclined to defect to the other side the next time around.

Contrast this with the yearly hardware refresh and software refreshes from Apple, where everyone with an iOS device within two generations of the current product release can achieve (mostly) software parity at exactly the same time, regardless of what carrier their device operates on.

Indeed, these annual iOS software releases introduce their own set of problems because everyone can be negatively affected by a single change (such as we have seen with the recent iOS 6 maps debacle) but at least everyone for the most part is treated equally.

Some Apple device owners, such as iPhone 3GS and iPad 2 users won't get certain iOS 6 features that the latest iPhone 5, iPhone 4/4S, iPod Touch and current generation iPad users have.

And yes, sometimes people do get left out in the cold -- such as those who still own first-generation iPads who cannot upgrade to the latest version of iOS -- but this tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Unquestionably this is also a form of fragmentation, but it is nowhere near as disparate and confused as the Android situation as it exists today.

It all comes down to support and familiarity. It is easy for me to explain to someone from afar how to do something on an iOS device, because our experiences are identical. Unless we're using the exact same model of Android device, chances are I might not be able remotely diagnose an issue with a friend or a family member's Android product, because our software builds will be significantly different. 

Apple's way of doing things isn't perfect, and iOS and the iDevices aren't necessarily better than Android and the OEM offerings from a purely technical perspective.

But it's a known quantity, it operates reliably, it provides access to the most popular applications created on the most preferred developer platform, it frees me from the software upgrade and compatability angst, and gives me an alternative outlet to my carrier in the form of actual Apple retail stores with real human beings I can talk to that can deal with problems should they arise.

Most importantly, my carrier is prohibited from making any real changes to iOS other than how it operates on their network, so it will always be practiced in a "fundamentalist" fashion. 

You can call devotion to Apple's iDevices an organized religion. You call it fanaticism or blind allegiance. You can call their software ecosystem a walled garden or even a gorgeously decorated prison.

Whatever it is, I'd rather deal with that than the Android lie that was foisted upon me by its false prophets.

Have you been a devoted Android user and are considering moving to the Promised Land of iOS? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

 

Topics: Android, Apple, Google, iPhone, Mobile OS

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.

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

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321 comments
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  • Jelly Bean

    I have the Galaxy Nexus and have had Jellybean running on it for about a month. I think most of your problems stem from the horrible Providers in the US (Verizon,AT&T). I live in Indonesia and there are no phone discounts here by the provider(telkomsel). I pay full price for each device I own and it comes completely unlocked and open. With that said I have always enjoyed the latest Android update within days or weeks of its US release.

    I also have an Iphone 4S and use both phones. I also wanted to say that my service for 2 phones is cheaper than I paid for one phone on AT&T about 2 years ago before I left.

    With that said I think most of your problem is with Verizon and not Android.
    sheddman90
    • For a month already? Good for you, but it is still almost two months behind

      ... Android 4.1 was released. Though yes, this is better experience, you are right.
      DDERSSS
      • To be fair,

        That's pretty good for 'droid; all the october releases i'm watching won't even launch with jelly bean. The reason seems simple enough; oems and carriers have to wait for upstream, but it's rediculous. For any of those saying updates don't matter, that may be true for some but not all. I've also been an iPhone user for years, with my business device being blackberry, until about 18 months ago when i went droid. It's like the old days of nokia firmware updates - oh you can't have that feature because your carrier hasn't worked on it yet?!

        Personally I love my nexus tablet (my SGs11 can go rust on ebay) and I've been looking quite openly at hardware for my personal phone replacement (work phone can't be iOS due to lack of linux/bsd itunes). The iPhone 5 unerwhelmed me; it's time for a new phone, but it just doesn't feel like one. I quite like the motorola and nokia phones due to come out, but it's the OS that holds me back; I'm waiting to see how WP8 runs, but having now used (finally) a proper implementation of android the doesn't feel flimsy and crash on my nexus7, i'm reluctant to risk another flimsy implementation dependant on oem and network carrier for upgrades - i secretly worry about future updates for my nexus; there'll be a new one by then.

        Btw the POS SGs11 just got it's ice cream sandwich update.... World wide shipping will be offered ;)
        MarknWill
        • Y'all have update-itis

          Most people are on two year upgrade cycles because of the contract process anyway. So what in the world is the incentive for a carrier to update a phone? And what is the BFD for users about updates? You will get an update when you get your next phone. So what?

          And why does it take so long? Because there are hundreds or thousands of phones. How many does just motorola have? And the update for one won't work with the others. That's the real issue.
          cornpie
          • Today, updates are critical

            Smartphones arn't phones. Phones were stable, feature-limited appliances. Smartphones are full blown computers that just happen to be able to make phone calls. That means they have all the issues that regular computers have, including bugs and security holes. I personally am not interested in seeing my phone get hijacked to be part of some botnet. And if there is a software bug, I expect it to be fixed.

            Despite all it's faults, Apple has done one critical thing right: They provide after-sales support, which is something that virtually no one else provides. And SHOCK! People are flocking to Apple like it were the next messiah (to keep with the religious theme). I was livid when I found out that Google wasn't going to provide ICS for my Nexus one. Then I looked around at other manufacturers and saw that Google was actually the *best* one out there. The OHA could at least have the decency to be embarrassed by what they've wrought.
            iloving
          • Updates are not always critical, and not always good

            With Windows and MacOS, how many times have things gone wrong after a given update? Many times. In fact, most technical people know to wait to update their computer and servers after an update comes out to see if there might be any problems especially if your computer is working fine.

            I'm running Android 2.2.2 on my 2 year old Dell Streak 5" and I'm very happy with it. I don't NEED Android 4.1.1. There is nothing CRITICAL I need from the latest version of Android. Are there features I would like to have like Google Now, of course, but I can wait until I get my new Galaxy Note II next month.
            laequis
          • Critical Updates from Apple

            take around 3 to 6 months
            you call THAT "customer service"
            warboat
      • writer said a key work... Verizon

        I see 2 big problems.

        The 1st one is the Carrier(s) (Verizon and all others). Android is open source but open to those who know how to develop for it. The carriers WILL NOT, push an update out to a device until they deem it carrier specific lockable with their junk.

        The easiest solution... Root the device and dont tell me it voids the warranty of the device. It only voids the Android OS warranty from carrier tech support. Thats the second part to this.

        Devices, if you want one to always get the latest possible update, get a device backed by google themselves, not a carrier who are the one holding up the updates. (ie. nexus)
        Free Webapps
    • Jelly Bean - Google Galaxy Nexus

      I agree that it is service providers,Verizon,AT&T & others that cause the slow Android upgrade process, So I cancelled my Verizon Android account and bought a Google Galaxy Nexus, unlocked, with Jelly Bean installed. It is fast and "Google Now" takes the work out of search. From what I have seen so far the voice search is much faster than Siri and the smarter keyboard and offline voice typing are terrific. It's a great phone with immediate updates from Google.
      Jerryos
      • Google holds a bit of the responsibility

        Google could have warned it's customers about carrierIQ. Microsoft knew about it. Apple knew about it, and put it front and center as a user choice and informed you every time it sent info and let you view the code that was being sent. With android, it was a hidden root kit patched into the kernel and KNOW did not happen without google's knowledge, since they have profit sharing side deals with the carriers among other things. They probably gave technical support to help hide it so well as a rootkit. Google's goal is to get android into your hands, even if it costs them money, since the ad-revenue, or profit in spying, makes it all worth it. It's in their interests to bend over backwards for the carriers, as long as it gets an android device in your hands, not that they don't make search money from ios users too.
        Google could have made it part of their agreements with carriers to at least disclose some of the rootkit spyware, but no.
        Google could work with handset manufacturers more so products don't get orphaned so fast, but no.
        They make money getting android into your hands and by your use, regardless of the version or security level.
        When gmail was hacked by "Chinese hackers", it was found to exploit a loophole they put in for law enforcement to bypass due process without informing users.
        Google makes money taking the easy route, letting its users fend for themselves. It's low cost and they can make money from the free work of others that way.
        It's a powerful product, only because of the community working on it, which I respect and trust, but it is perverted by google's business model. It has deals with carriers you know and it's just cheaper for them and more profitable to get it into your hands however the carriers want it.
        ossoup
        • Source?

          Source or BS.
          kurogami207176
        • Google rootkits?

          Google didn't install CIQ. it was homeland security initiative forcing US carriers to use CIQ. Even Apple caved in and installed CIQ and don't think that disabling reporting to Apple disables CIQ backdoor.
          Google provides the source code for anyone to compile for any device. They can't hide anything with open source unlike Apple, MS, RIM, Nokia.
          warboat
        • CIQ was just code to help debug carrier networks

          All that CIQ did was log dropped calls, missed texts, signal levels, and such info so that the carriers could figure out trouble spots before they got too bad.

          That's all.

          Unfortunately for CIQ, one of their programmers accidentally left their debug log turned on. The info never went anywhere, but it turned into a media circus for no good reason, just like that never-ending iPhone location precache storage did.
          kevindarling
      • agreed

        I like my gnex, but it is larger than I want and google will stop updating it far too soon. Jellybean's operation is an improvement over ICS and ICS a significant one over gingerbread. google now in JB rocks. in ICS it was ok, only almost useful.
        but now no bluetooth for me, and others have worse/more OS issues currently.
        calyko
    • How many words does it take to boil down 3 complaints?

      This IS 'clickbait'.

      1 - Dishonest about 'open source'.
      2 - Boils down to 3 complaints that are not Android based
      3 - Lengthy with no substance

      First I'd like to say the author goes on about 'open source' and the naivete of Android users. Well, the author is being dishonest in his use of the phrase 'open source'. Look up the definition; Android is open source. Nothing is written where manufacturers have to be hands off in order for the source code to be considered 'open source'.

      From a base user's perspective, all that matters is that we can change keyboards, change the number of homescreens, change the way that we interact with those homescreens; do we swipe, does the homescreen transition from the bottom, from the top and so many other combinations. The use of interactive widgets is truly helpful and no they do not drain my battery. To me, maybe a 'perverted' definition of 'open source', but these are some of the many unrestricted benefits of using an 'open source' OS.

      Secondly, these are the author's primary complaints:
      1 - His Bionic overheated when using LTE
      2 - His software upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich was delayed
      3 - His Galaxy Nexus had 2 be replaced twice

      1 rebuttal: How many LTE devices were out before Bionic? Is it possible this is a 'first generation' device? Yes, it was. Kind of like the iOS 6 debacle; Apple users say "it's just the first iteration give it tiiiiiime" Ok. Either way the hardware has NOTHING to do with Android. Talk about dishonest.

      2 rebuttal: Maybe the most valid complaint about Android itself, BUT I'd like to ask the author what features specifically did he miss for not having Ice Cream Sandwich for a year? Go on, tell me. Further, if the author says "I can just jailbreak my iphone to be able to change my keyboard, homescreen, etc to get the same functionality." Ok, if he's willing to jailbreak the iphone why isn't he willing to root an Android to get ICS? Dishonest.

      3 rebuttal: Lemon phones happen. Yes, even with iPhones. Again, this is not an Android based issue but hardware manufacturer issue.

      I'm also in the tech business, software development. No I do not develop for Android. But with that said, I know many, many people who have abandoned iOS and moved on to a Samsung Galaxy S3...also in the tech industry. I think this article is clickbait and I think there are other more valid complaints about Android and this article is more intellectually dishonest in its attempts to demonize Android in favor of iOS.

      The fact is, iOS is stale, it's dated and it's a grid of icons. The hardware is struggling to stay competitive so apple is forced to sue, sue, sue - and that's a sign of desperation.

      Dishonest indeed, this article is clickbait. Good luck with your iphone though - At least Google and its manufacturers aren't trying to take away your consumer choice in devices as Apple is attempting. Disgusting.
      Josh Destardi
      • Android Rant? I think not!

        I agree with Josh Destardi. This isn't Androids fault, it's Motorola and Verizon's fault. They are the ones that issue the updates to ICS. You just wanted to be an Apple fan boi.
        D. Ellis
        • Keep following the Apple people Perlow

          Everything that Josh Destardi is right. The iPhone 3,4, and 5 are terrible and your article is clickbait. I only read the first paragraph and already knew what your were going into. I skipped the rest.

          And for the guy toward page 2 of the this thread that says "Google is cheating because of the advanced processor hardware and general hardware used in the handset" with Android 2 - 4.1; while Apple is not because it's smooth OS runs better with supposed less hardware feature sets ?! [bull-crap]

          Your an idiot. Surely you jest! You can suck eggs and keep paying a premium to Apple for under-priced hardware.

          Every body in IT knows, YOU DO NOT PAY A PREMIUM FOR HARDWARE THAT IS LESS THAN OR EQUAL TO WHAT THE MARKET PRICE IS. If anyone in this thread has ever built a computer, which I am sure most of you have, you are not going to pay more for hardware that you know costs less.

          This is my main problem with people that purchase Apple products, financial stupidity. And then they ask some one like me to help them with it. If Apples product is made simple enough for you, then you figure tell me what is wrong with it and WHY YOU PAID MORE A EQUIPMENT THAT HAS A GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO FAIL RATE.

          Who would pay a premium price for old hardware with a new OS ?! Only if your desperate, stupid, or Apple people will. And yes, individuals are now called "Apple People" within social circles. These people will buy almost anything to make themselves feel better and it shows with what that company is trying to make that phone into.

          And please don't start with the default Apple fanboy "Android fragmentation" argument, because all OS's are fragmented in some shape or form.
          Rocafellanerd
          • "Every body in IT knows ..."

            "Every body in IT knows ..." And there's the problem. This is The New World of Technology. What IT "thinks" or "knows" is becoming less and less relevant to the mainstream, average technology user. The average user doesn't know or care who's fault it is that their Android phones are hard to use, buggy, and don't get updated. They want a phone that "just works". By and large Apple delivers this and has delivered this for 5 years now. Average consumers simply don't care about hardware specs (as long as they are within reason) or how many ports something has or how "kick ass" an IT geek thinks something is. They want a device that empowers them. Until the rest of the world figures this out, they don't have a chance of seriously competing with Apple.
            Marcelbrown
          • funny

            Whenever I see a comment like this I remember how popular a pet rock was and for much the same reasons as I just read.

            My phones have run flawlessly. It did so under Android 2.3 and continues to run well under ICS and JB. Every feature you find packaged with an IPhone Android matches or beats by my experience.
            fldbryan
          • The Pet Rock was no iPhone

            The pet rock was a little before my time, so I have no first-hand knowledge of that phenomenon. But as a technology professional who works with individual professionals and small business owners, what I do have first-hand knowledge of is what my clients experience. And that experience echoes Jason's dissatisfaction with the Android platform almost to a T.

            Many of my clients used Android because they couldn't get the iPhone at the time. Or they were swayed by the lower cost of an Android phone. Or some techie salesperson promised them how great Android's "openness" was. But the reality was that their Android phone simply wasn't that great or was downright bad. Many of my clients jumped ship at their first chance to get an iPhone last year. Many more were waiting for the iPhone 5. These facts speak for themselves. All the promise in the world means nothing. All that matters is the end result. I think 5 years of continually increasing sales shows that the iPhone is far more than hype.
            Marcelbrown