The innocence of Android fans

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.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
This 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 So when the Bionic does get its software update, it will already be outdated.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.


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