The Android proposition sends somewhat mixed messages. On the one hand, you pay the same amount of money for the top-tier Android shartphones that you would for an iPhone; on the other, once you open the box, chances are it will be the same device when your contract expires. I’ve banged this drum for what feels like forever: Android is made by a company interested in getting a device into your hands; the iPhone is made by a company that extracts value from the experience of the consumer. One makes its money in ways you don’t see and no one really understands; the other through the devices it sells. Anyone who buys an Android device expecting the same level of attention to their experience is deluded and destined for a disappointing epiphany. Take the case of Jason Perlow: ZDNet columnist, devout Android user and the latest battered spouse to realize that the only way out of the relationship is to light the bed on fire.
His problem is the same as anyone who has an expectation that an Android device will be treated like an iOS device: currency. Sure, Google spits out Android updates at a respectable rate. The problem is that no one else in the “experience chain” gives a shit. Carriers and manufacturers are far more interested in getting you to buy the latest XIOR Xtreme Nebula S II Pro than keeping its existing customers current. That’s why Android isn’t current on Google’s own flagship phone. That’s why less than 5% of handsets have received Ice Cream Sandwich updates. People who still defend the “free and open” nonsense love to point out who’s at fault in the relationship instead of finding ways out of it. I’ll illustrate using a point only tangentially related.
I have the misfortune of being a commuter into New York. Because I don’t want my life to end due to a road rage-related shooting, this means I have to rely on NJ Transit to deliver me to work every day. I also have the misfortune of using NJT’s “Northeast Corridor” line, the tracks of which are actually leased by NJ Transit from Amtrak. Amtrak is responsible for all of the maintenance of the rails and the overhead power lines that power the trains, a task they don’t appear to take all that seriously. This leads to a dependency issue which frequently results in trains almost never being on time as well as several hours-long catastrophic delays every year. NJT, in all of their delay announcements, is quick to blame Amtrak for these delays. There’s a point here, I swear.
During one of these catastrophic, hours-long delays, one NJT employee had the bad luck of running into yours truly. This poor soul made a comment to someone within earshot about how badly Amtrak was screwing them. What follows is a rough transcript of the conversation after that point:
Me: It sounds like you guys are getting very comfortable blaming Amtrak for NJ Transit delays.
NJT: Because it’s their fault.
Me: To a point. I’ve been riding you guys for 2 years now and I’ve been hearing the same story. I work in a building that leases space from another party. Do you think that I can go to a client and blame my not turning a proposal in on time on the landlord inadvertently shutting off the power to my floor? Or the faulty air conditioning that brought down our servers? At some point, it’s just me and my customers. You guys appear more interested in making excuses than finding solutions. You should thank God you have a monopoly on rail service into New York and don’t have to run this thing like a business.
I don’t think this poor NJ Transit employee appreciated the customer’s perspective on providing service, but it’s a good illustration of why Apple strives to control every element of their products’ experience. At some point, blaming the carriers or blaming the manufacturers is bullshit. At least to the average consumer. When defenders like Jason Perlow fly the coop, you can bet consumers won’t be far behind.