Is commoditisation killing Android's spark?

When your phone is no longer distinctive from the rest, what does it become? A commodity. That's precisely what's happening with Google Android devices.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

When your phone is no longer distinctive from the rest, what does it become? A commodity. That's precisely what's happening with Google Android devices.

Commodity — it is the reality that consumer electronics manufacturers fear the most; the acknowledgement that despite all the millions of dollars spent on elaborate marketing, advertising and public relations campaigns, what they are offering is almost completely identical to what their bitterest rivals offer, too.

And worse, it's constructed of parts made by other, more niche companies who own the intellectual property.

How does it feel to arrange but not create? Terrifying.

When Google's Android operating system was first announced, I and other journalists covering the technology industry warned that a forking OS — that is, offering different versions to the market at the same time by allowing vendors to customise it — would spell trouble for the growing platform. Despite this, the collective Google mobile presence has grown tremendously, though every product cycle it splinters a little bit more.

What's the best Android phone on the market? Anyone know? Our difficulty in answering this question is because, along with a forking OS, there is a forking brand.

On one end of the smartphone spectrum is Apple's iPhone: a single device from a single company on multiple carriers. Sure, there are multiple storage options, but the device is otherwise the same. Behind it is the previous model, priced to sell at a cut rate. It's a very linear offering.

Somewhere in the middle is Research In Motion, which has designated model names ("Storm", "Bold", "Curve") and customises certain models to the carrier, denoting those with four-digit model numbers. If you're a fan, you know them all; if you're a casual onlooker, you recognise the model names. But not all models are available on all carriers, so there are more variables here than meet the eye.

On the other end is Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and Google's Android. Both use multiple vendors to make multiple models that are available on different carriers. While the model offering of a single vendor combined with a single carrier is relatively linear, the options are far more complicated as a whole.

To be honest, I couldn't name five current Android models without the nagging fear that some of them were already obsolete.

Since the beginning, Google has had a hands-off approach to Android — and despite a few toothless manoeuvres with the "Nexus" sub-brand, it remains that way today. The problem: there are too many cooks in the kitchen. There are more brands fighting for your attention in your pocket today than there ever were stuck to the palm rest of your laptop.

To think we used to complain about a Microsoft Windows and Intel Inside sticker! Mobile handsets have seemingly adopted Spanish-naming conventions: the Verizon Droid Bionic 4G LTE by Motorola Google Android smartphone. This isn't paralysis by analysis; it's necrosis by psychosis.

The irony is that all of these super-specific names only make the overall group less distinctive. It's like mosaic — a lot of colourful little photos make up one greyish, brownish whole. As a consumer, your eyes glaze over. Your mind shuts off to the onslaught of detail. The phones begin to lose distinction and become precisely what all that marketing, advertising and public relations was supposed to avoid: commodities, thinly separated by screen size, novel feature or price.

In an effort to be the loudest brand on the device, the various companies involved in the making of your mobile device have drowned each other out. What's left in your pocket: a commodity without a story.

Via ZDNet US

Editorial standards