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GUEST BLOG: Rethinking the Android ecosystem

JR Raphael | Aug. 23, 2012
It's hard to believe it was a mere three years ago that the original Droid phone burst into the world and made Android a household name.

My, oh my, how our little baby has grown up.

It's hard to believe it was a mere three years ago that the original Droid phone burst into the world and made Android a household name. Before that, Android had been little more than a clunky Google experiment most non-techie-type folks had never heard of.

Two years ago, meanwhile, we were watching Android slowly but steadily rise in both mind and market share, with around 20 percent of the U.S. smartphone market compared to Apple's daunting 60 percent. And I was being called a fool (among other things) for daring to say it was inevitable, despite what certain CEOs were claiming, that Android would explode and become the dominant force in mobile computing.

Now, here we are in 2012. Android accounts for almost 70 percent of the global smartphone market. And there are more Google-powered devices out there than any reasonably sane person could count.

The Android landscape has grown in ways we could have never fully envisioned back in the days of the first Droid. We have more flavors and varieties than a Baskin Robbins at this point, with scores of manufacturers putting their own twists and turns on the technology.

No question -- Google's mobile platform has evolved immensely. And now, it's time to rethink how we view the Android ecosystem.

The Android interface issue

First, a confession: This was originally going to be a very different story.

I'd been planning for a while to write a rant about how manufacturers need to stop screwing with Android. I wrote something similar almost exactly two years ago, in August of 2010, when I proclaimed that it was "time for the baked-in Android UI to die."

Back then, I pointed out the problems with manufacturers baking their own interfaces into the Android OS: The practice slows down device upgrades, causes new devices to launch with dated software, and creates cluttered and bloat-ridden interfaces with few significant advantages over the stock Android setup.

I suggested that device-makers meet us halfway and start including their customizations as standalone apps, widgets, and launchers. That'd let them accomplish many of the same goals while eliminating most of the problematic issues -- and, just as important, would let users decide, without having to hack their phones, whether they wanted to use a manufacturer-made UI or Google's stock Android environment on any given device.

Since that time, Google has made enormous strides with the Android OS. Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, brought a sleek and polished new look to the platform. And Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, added even more sheen. Yet here we are in the same boat we were in two years ago, with manufacturers releasing devices with dated, bloated software, slow and ineffective upgrades, and subpar user experiences.


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