Tech’s most popular head-to-head pairing, Apple vs. Google, is a battle originating and fought mainly on the mobile phone battlefield. The iPhone OS and hardware are made by Apple, and despite its problems with AT&T in the U.S., its carrier relationship is the envy of every other phone maker in the industry. This integration of hardware and software, leveraged relationship with its carriers and the closely-curated nature of its App Store allow Apple to deliver a consistent, fluid user experience.
Contrast this with the relationships Google has with its Android partners. Google supplies the OS, HTC or Motorola provides the hardware and any one of a number of carriers provides the service. Its App Store is a loosely-managed free-for-all of copyright-challenging ringtones and mostly minor titles from fringe developers.
So what’s the worst that can happen? Motorola’s recently-released Droid X provides some insight. Gizmodo, who I generally despise precisely for its gratuitious fellating of Google, absolutely panned the device as a giant (5″ x 2.6″, 5 1/2 oz.), spec heavy, performance retarded amalgmation of Android 2.1 (even though the vastly superior 2.2 has been available on the Nexus One since mid-June), Motorola’s Blur social networking overlay and enough pre-installed crapware to make Sony blush.
On paper, the Droid X is one of the best Android phones ever made. But unlike Apple, who controls every facet of the product experience aside from the carrier, the up-and-coming OS’s implementation is a victim of several unleveraged relationships. God help me – I’m about to quote Gizmodo:
The software—a discordant melange of the not-so-fresh Android 2.1 and various bits of the Blur “social networking” interface from Motorola’s lower-end Android phones—is the shudder-inducing poster child for the horrors that can occur when most hardware companies try to make software. It’s ugly, scattershot, and confusing. It feels almost malicious.
If Google had manufacturer and carrier control, they wouldn’t have to deal with this shit, which is why I imagine they took a shot at selling the Nexus One themselves. This phone would ship with Android 2.2 and be stripped of both the crapware (which I suspect was not Google’s idea) and Motorola’s joke of an OS overlay. Instead, a device that’s a specification juggernaut is transformed into a Frankensteinian shitshow that makes everyone involved look stupid.
And that’s what I mean about 2 degrees of fragmentation – and if the carrier was actually responsible for any of the crapware pre-installed on the X, that would be 3. There’s the experience of the Android OS from Google, which has limited control over it (which is why there are 3 major versions of Android in circulation) and there’s the Blur overlay forced onto the device courtesy of Motorola (HTC also has the Sense overlay for many of its Android devices, but it’s not nearly as obtrusive or shitastic).
So when people ask their friends about “an Android phone”, they might get the enthusiastic answer version from a geek running Froyo on a Nexus One or the serious buyer’s remorse answer from someone who was marketed a superior device that’s hamstrung by an old OS and an aneurism-inducing faux UI provided by their meddling manufacturer. And despite what Google execs would have you believe, fragmentation is not a fairy tale. It pisses consumers off and makes people wipe their asses with your brand. Then again, as long as people are granting Google the right to exploit their search habits and identity, I don’t think they care how many different versions of their derivative OS exist – as long as all of them keep pumping the ducats into Google’s coffers.