The Hills Are Greener: Why Android’s Father is Wrong About Android’s Future

The Hills Are Greener: Why Android’s Father is Wrong About Android’s Future

Nov 12, 2012

The co-founder of Android, Rich Miner said something interesting recently that seems to jibe against Google’s seeming strategy with Android, which is less carrier modification. Miner thinks that Android needs more carrier customization.

Here’s the problem, though: that is exactly the opposite of what Android needs. One of the beautiful things about the iPhone is that no matter what carrier it’s on, the user gets the same experience. It’s a very good thing, and it helps people use the operating system better because they can expect a consistent experience no matter what.

But with Android, phones are dramatically changing from version to version, even between the Nexus devices! Android is very confusing to use because the user never really knows what to expect. That back button is still inconsistent and confusing, and probably always will be. Users need to get a consistent experience that they can learn to use, not something new every single time they get a new phone.

This is not to say that user interfaces shouldn’t change at all, but that maybe building a consistent user experience for Android is important. iOS may seem dated to tech observers and pundits, but what if users like that it looks familiar? There is a fine line to walk between stiflinf innovation and user comfort, though.

So, to say that the carriers should be doing more customization is asinine. It’s only good for one party: the carriers, who try to encourage people to stay by way of fear of change.

Much like speech, customization should be a right that users don’t have to necessarily take advantage of. The out-of-the-box experience should be consistent and comfortable, and users should not feel like they have to customize just to be happy with their device.

But this shows how different the perspective of Rich Miner must be from Google’s current team working on Android. Is it possible that he sees the OS as perhaps he once did: a platform that is extensively customizable, instead of how Google may see it: the biggest competition to iOS, and something that they can ‘use’ instead of something that exists. Of course, now that Miner is part of Google Ventures, maybe he’s looking at it from a purely business sense.

But then that’s why iOS devices are doing so well: because Apple does take care with user interfaces. Android should have a consistent user experience, and then allow customization for those that want it. That’s the best balance. Rich Miner may have once worked on Android, but heeding it would be a major step back for Android.

The Hills Are Greener: I Come To Bury The Telephone

The Hills Are Greener: I Come To Bury The Telephone

Feb 27, 2012

The cell phone providers’ days are numbered. They can try to fight all they want to continue to sell voice, messaging, and data subscriptions as separate products, but their futures are all the same: as dumb pipes that just carry information provided by other services. The technology to replace their costly voice and messaging services already exist, and connections are only getting faster. Soon, all people will need to communicate is a logical hookup to data services, which is what the providers will, well, provide. They may still make money off of subsidizing phones at yearly contracts, but this will be their funciton entirely.

Pretty much the only thing holding us back is a reliance on phone numbers and their cross-platform interoperability. No matter what operating system they use, a phone number is a phone number and it will receive its phone calls and text messages no matter what. However, the idea of having one unified contact point may be dead in a generation or so as social networking and those handles become more used. We use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking services to get in touch with the people we need to so often now that phone numbers are decreasing in importance, and it’s even already affecting the carriers’ bottom lines as far as text messaging goes. We can get the same kind of direct, real-time notifications that phone numbers give us, and non-telephone voice and video communication are only getting more popular.

Apple, in their attempts to bring everyone forward, may be the ones holding back this dream. iMessage is closed off to everyone. FaceTime is still not open. Google’s branded Google Talk products are simply just branded versions of the XMPP protocol that anyone can implement to work with their accounts. Like Apple, who have Google Talk implemented into iChat, along with the variety of apps that openly support it as well, through the Jingle video protocols. Android users can easily communicate with anyone using the protocols that Google has built-in; Apple wants people to use Apple products and Apple protocols.

Perhaps this is room for a startup to take advantage of, to disrupt and supplant phone numbers, to find a way to unify all these disparate communications systems, to create one unified handle for people to use that could work with whatever text, voice, and video messaging system the user wishes. Right now, we are simply in a transitional period where the growing pains of new technology are clashing with the standards of old technology. But growing pains are not forever. It will just take someone with a service that is inventive and useful enough to solve this problem of disunification.

Market Unlocker Frees Users From Carrier or Country Based Market Restrictions

Market Unlocker Frees Users From Carrier or Country Based Market Restrictions

Feb 14, 2012

Android’s openness is both a tool for users and a hindrance – Android has the ability for carriers to hide certain apps from appearing on a user’s device if the Android Market detects that they are on a certain carrier, through a 5 or 6 digit code associated with each carrier. This is used to hide apps like tethering apps, because by controlling tethering access, the carriers can limit data consumption and generate more revenue by selling tethering plans for an extra $20 or so per month. As well, the Amazon Appstore is currently not available to non-US customers, which can be flustering to those who want some of their free apps that they give away on a daily basis.

The beauty of Android’s openness is that it’s only if the Market can detect the user’s carrier. That’s where Market Unlocker comes in. It can unlock the Market on devices to appear on any carrier, or even in any country. First off, this requires root access, so it’s not an entirely simple process. Get that straightened away, and then Market Unlocker’s tools become available. For Android 2.x devices, it can simply emulate different and custom carrier values in order to make a different Market appear. For Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich devices, it uses a proxy that can be utilized to not only visit a carrier-agnostic version of the Android Market, but to access the Amazon Appstore, which does not sell apps outside of the US.

Market Unlocker is free to download and to try out, and comes with a banner ad at the bottom of the screen that is disabled in the $0.99 Market Unlocker Pro. So go on! Tether so much that a carrier executive’s knees get weak over all the additional mobile data consumption! Or, don’t do that, because then they’ll want more money. Get Market Unlocker from the Android Market before the hammers of the carrier overwatch find out and ironically block it from the Market. Then this app would really be necessary.

Gingerbread Not Coming to Users and It’s Largely the Carriers’ Fault.

Fragmentation is the most overplayed issue on Android, with frequent press pushing the issue. This is more of that, but not because of hardware issues; no, this covers an actual serious issue with Android, namely the lack of recent software updates for many devices. Android and Me reports that many devices are not yet running the latest version of Android available for phones, Gingerbread (2.3). While manufacturers in the Android Update Alliance are providing updates to many of their phones, carriers are not offering these updates in large quantities to their users.

The problem is likely twofold. First, because Google does not have the ability to deliver software updates directly to user’s phones, they cannot push updates like Apple can; not having desktop software like iTunes to help this process is also a hindrance. The second problem is that there’s a bottleneck among the carriers and manufacturers with providing updates. The manufacturers have to develop updates for these phones because of the various hardware in them. Manufacturers may be hesitant to develop them because they are consistently working on new phones, and may be trying to just develop for the new phones they make. As well, they often have to deliver these updates to the carriers, and they have been lackadaisical in providing them to users. As well, there has been conflict in the past with manufacturers trying to get more money from the carriers because they feel like they should be compensated for providing feature updates. In short, because of all these factors, it has made it more difficult for users to get the latest updates.

By not having these updates, users are having to use devices that are not as secure, and are obviously lacking features because they are on earlier updates. This ultimately harms the Android experience, and it is in both the carriers’ and manufacturers’ best interests to make sure that their phones are on the latest versions, because offering users an inferior experience makes them more likely to jump into the arms of Apple and iOS. Apple has been much more hostile to carrier interference than Android manufacturers have, and carriers could risk losing control of their own networks if users will not support smartphone alternatives to iOS. While the risks of mass defection are low, it’s still something that seems like the carriers should not risk.