So David and Doug have been back and forth about this whole Android/WinMo thing, and it has mostly centered around Apps. We can debate about the quality of Android apps and the archaiety of WinMo apps forever as there is plenty of ammunition around to make the US nuclear stockpile look like firecrackers. However, one specific trend sticks out in my mind that spells D-O-O-M for Android if they’re not careful. Microsoft stumbled on the same problems and are now facing a major overhaul.
Everyone is talking about fragmentation. The problem is that it’s becoming more true for Android every day. We can all see what happened to WinMo as it broke apart supporting touch-screens, non-touch screens, and devices from 2003. I don’t think Android has any non-touch screen aspirations, however the number of OS versions on the market, coupled with the variety of Handset UI experiences layered onto it are causing a similar spread of user experience across the board. Let’s start with OS number for simplicity.
So how many versions of Android are there? Well if we take our info from Wikipedia it reports that, including the original, there are six versions of Android. There are 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, 2.1, and the new 2.2. Giving them names of food like cupcake and doughnut does not make it any easier. Now even if we include the non-touch screen phones Microsoft had going on the market and go back to 6.1, that would make two versions of 6.1 (touch and non-touch,) two versions of 6.5 (again touch and non-touch,) and 6.5.x which is only for touch screens. That puts Android one ahead of Microsoft in the fragmentation department. Now I’m not saying that Android and WinMo will have some sort of directly mirrored evolutionary path, but there is definately some correlation to fragmentation and increased operating costs, as well as user experience. The real problem I see is that this is not Android’s only fragmentation issues.
Android and WinMo also share a similar level of UI customization. There are a few dozen choices for each at the moment. These User enabled options don’t really cause that much headache for average users though, because these “extra” UI options must be hunted down and brought onto the phone through the user making a concious decision to improve or change the visual preferences. What does cause headache, is when some random user goes into a store to purchase an Android handset because they saw their friends Moto Droid, and instead of black prefer silver and leave with a Devour because of their preference. This means they get MotoBlur all up in there face, which turns the quite formidable Motorola Droid into 10 lbs of shit in a 5 lb bag. The overly-busy, epileptic brain-f*ck that is MotoBlur is a waste of time and money for any user. And yes, this can be changed, just like it could on WinMo but that didn’t stop anyone from bitching about it, and so I continue. This is not the only manufacturer UI out there. Just like the WinMo world we see HTC taking the front seat with Sense and kicking more ass than a Chuck Norris anthology on fast forward. I’m not so much saying this is a bad thing from a Power User standpoint (in fact it’s quite awesome) but an issue for average consumers and overall business models none the less. Plus I’m just wondering if Google realizes its not so much blazing a new path as they are following the four-lane highway that Microsoft left in their wake.