May 16 AT 2:08 PM Dustin Earley 30 Comments

NTT Docomo exemplifies everything I hate about carriers and manufacturers

docmo-19-phonesplusgsiii883 Image via: Engadget

Set aside the differences in sharing things like photos and videos. Set aside the differences in how the app store and media purchases work. Hell, you can even set aside the differences in cost, hardware design and software design in general. And you’d still be left with the biggest problem Android faces over platforms like iOS today: manufacturers are still releasing too many damn phones. It’s what affects a company’s ability to provide timely updates, what keeps accessory manufacturers from supporting more devices and what makes Android look like the the dumb-phone OS of the future.

Japan’s NTT Docomo has announced their latest lineup of devices in the “Next” and “With” series to be sold this summer; both feature a handful of Android devices. Actually, handful isn’t quite right. Maybe truck load. Or landfill. In total, NTT Docomo detailed 17 different Android devices. 16 phones and one tablet. There’s devices from Fujitsu, Panasonic, LG, Sharp, Toshiba, Sony and Samsung.

Now before I go any further, I want to make it known that I believe a certain level of choice is a good thing. But there can be too much of a good thing. Verizon has been guilty of it in the past. The biggest manufacturers in the world, like Motorola, HTC and Samsung, are all guilty of it. But what Docomo has done with their summer lineup of devices just blows my mind.

Are case makers stumbling around, trying to get several different designs made up for each of the 16 phones announced? Has Docomo sat down with all the manufacturers who are providing handsets to discuss how and when the next updates will be delivered to those handsets? Do popular Japanese app developers plan to run out and buy 16 new phones this summer to ensure app compatibility?

It seems to me that NTT Docomo is treating Android like the dumb-phone OS of the future. In the past, carriers like Docomo and Verizon here in the US would release dump loads of dumb-phones, all with the same OS, but slightly different variations. Some with bigger screens, some with physical keyboards, some with good cameras, etc. Those handsets were never updated to get rid of any bugs that made it through the pre-release process, cases were hard to come by, there was no such thing as accessories like stereo docks (even for the special music phones of the day). With the way phones were released, quality was an issue. There was never enough time spent on each device throughout the development process.

RIM was the first company to change the cycle by releasing a couple different models of BlackBerrys a year, all of them the same all around the world. Sidekick was also a part of the trend, and so was Motorola (at least for awhile) with the release of the RAZR. Apple has carried the torch and taken it even further by releasing only one device a year. Someone like Docomo is not only going against a trend that actually makes sense for consumers, they’re actually destroying progress.

Bottom line: Releasing too many phones hurts app compatibility. It hurts the update process. Handset quality suffers, and in turn, so do consumers.

Carriers and manufacturers, feel free to provide a rich portfolio of Android smartphones. Don’t feel bad trying different things. But for the love of all that is good with the little green guy, don’t do what Docomo has done. Just stop it.

Source: Engadget

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

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  • http://www.jeffkibuule.com Jeff

    The Paradox of Choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM

    Choice is a good thing, too much is paralyzing.

  • Kwasi

    Can you speak to how Docomo does with providing updates? Because I only find this level of choice to be a problem if some choices mean no updates and others don’t.

    In the US it seems like only flagship phones get updates in a timely manner. If updates don’t take much longer than it takes the device manufacturer, how is Docomo causing problems. (i.e., if Sharp updates their phones in a timely manner and Docomo doesn’t pull a Verizon and withold 4.0.4 for months and months, i see no issue.)

  • Joel

    “Someone like Docomo is not only going against a trend that actually makes sense for consumers, they’re actually destroying progress.”

    Amen. And by so doing they depreciate the value of Android. This sucks.

  • vachea

    Stuff like this only makes android look bad in my opinion. We don’t need 16 new phones just 4 really good ones that’s it.

  • WT 06 Matty P

    I’m not the first person to ever mention this, but why not release 4 to 5 high end phones each year. As each year passes the past years high end phone then becomes a mid level phone and then after 2 years will become a bottom level phone. By doing this manufacturers need to focus on making the best phone they can for that one year and can continue to sell that model for each following year. This would be beneficial for manufacturers because they can continue to update the phones and would be nice for the end user because their phone doesn’t become completely outdated and forgotten within a couple of months.

    • Dikembe

      If you did that, then there would be no single core high resolution phone, or without nfc. if you take the stupid example of the i devices, your previous years device when the 4 was released would be a 100 dpi screen. who would buy that when you could have the same phone as last year but a 300dpi for roughly the same cost?

    • Fuzzypaws

      I believe in this philosophy too. It also makes the phones better in another way – by only having to support a few phones at a time, they get updates faster. For example, Samsung could have their Galaxy S style phone for the year, their Note form factor, and maybe a small one without a camera (because some jobs don’t allow them). This is all they release for the year. Next year, they release new versions, last year’s versions become the midtier, the previous year’s become the low tier, and you’re still only supporting 9 phones.

  • ndub21

    Yea, that is completely absurd. I think HTC and Samsung seem like they may be falling in line more with Apple’s philosophy of only releasing one major phone per year (with the Galaxy S and One series). They do seem to release a ton of other less powerful spin-offs of those flagship phones though.

  • Nathan D.

    People can’t make a choice any more, what to do what to do!? But anyways that way to much for any one carrier, that has to stop right away before that gets out of hand.

  • Mark

    If the internals are exactly the same (thus the same update would apply to all equally) then I see less of an issue. That way all the phones should be able to run the same apps, os updates, etc without any need for change. It still makes accessories an issue but still secondary I think.

    Overall though I agree the shotgun method of making phones now is causing some problems for sure. I am still waiting and watching to see how Samsung and HTC do with their supposed fewer phones methodology.

  • J. Maurice

    “manufacturers are still releasing too many damn phones”
    Each OEM is only releasing 1 or 2 devices. Why is that too many?

    “makes Android look like the the dumb-phone OS of the future”
    Of course they all run Android, what other free and decent OS is there? You want them to run windows phone?

    “Are case makers stumbling around, trying to get several different designs made up for each of the 16 phones announced?”
    The cases, screen protectors, extended batteries, and other accessories are made by several competing companies as well. It’s all part of the business.

    “Has Docomo sat down with all the manufacturers who are providing handsets to discuss how and when the next updates will be delivered to those handsets?”
    Of course, they push out updates all the time. Google also has a say in pushing updates as part of the Android Compatibility Program that OEMs opt into.

    “Do popular Japanese app developers plan to run out and buy 16 new phones this summer to ensure app compatibility?”
    Most do, but if they don’t want to, they can test their apps at any docomo smartphone lounge, or other testing facilities which have devices available for testing.

    “NTT Docomo is treating Android like the dumb-phone OS of the future”
    Docomo is simply the network operator. they do not make phones or choose what OS to put in them. They simply sell whatever the OEMs offer them. Right now, all OEMs use Android, and if you like it or not, Android *is* the smart-phone OS of the present and future.

    “Docomo is not only going against a trend that actually makes sense for consumers, they’re actually destroying progress”
    They offer all phones for sale, and their network is top-notch (75mbit down, 25mbit up). They constantly innovate new technologies and are always the first to market. They push the market forward, especially in Japan. Compare this to network operators in the west that won’t have any of these phones for months after docomo does, if ever or at all.

    Please stop criticizing a perfectly valid network operator in a market you clearly do not understand. Docomo is doing a fine job, and is a model for other networks to follow.

    • Max.Steel

      “Docomo is simply the network operator. they do not make phones or choose what OS to put in them. They simply sell whatever the OEMs offer them. Right now, all OEMs use Android, and if you like it or not, Android *is* the smart-phone OS of the present and future.”

      Yes, Docomo is only a network operator and don’t make phones or OS but they have the power and choice of choosing which phones they will release on their network. They allowed this to happen so the ultimate blame falls on them. The glaring fact that after releasing, update and support will be very difficult is also why the author is calling them out.

    • Alex

      Often overwhelming choice is the norm in most of Japanese society when it comes to shopping. Manufacturers have the idea that this is what people want. I’ve no idea if they do or not, that’s just the way it is. Take a look at any car showroom, or convenience store.

      Docomo haven’t really changed their strategy much, if anything, it used to be much worse 5 ~ 10 years ago.

      I can see where J. Maurice is coming from, but I’ve never seen anyone defend Docomo so vociferously. :D

      I’m not sure if I agree that Docomo puts out updates all the time. They seem to be just fixing their broken SP Mode Mail.

  • Andrew

    That’s nice [usubscribe].

  • Shiv

    Japanese end-users are lookibg for “personality” in the product. I think its good to have many choice of choosing which phones to pick. Docomo is the one of biggest and oldest career in Japanese market and it has style. Docomo wanted iphone for long time but apple doesnt accept preinstalling “D menu” which docomo is making money in from app. So only android platform is left since android is accepting it.

  • ToniO

    Ok, but you are talking about Japan, they have a totally different culture and market. Japanese consumers demand that magnitude of choice, just take a look at their drink machines.

  • droilfade

    Whatever happened to “exclusivity?” As I mentioned my Sep,2011 bought S2 already looks old! This is blasphemy! Nerd chicks aren’t attracted to me any more. OK, now I go, get a life.

  • MIke C.

    The problem is not the number of devices as such. The problem is that Docomo puts their own software on the damn phones and thus … keeping this many devices up-to-date becomes very expensive.

    Choice in HW design, screen size, etc. is a good thing. There will never be one design that works for everybody. However, phone manufacturers should stick to HW design and leave the SW to google. And carriers should stick to selling (stock) phones and services.

    The current model sucks for the consumer. Oh, and take a look at the Apple guys. No one gets to mock with their HW design or SW design. It is a model that the consumer like.

  • http://ericweiss.me Eric Weiss

    And then they will complain that they didn’t sell well. They are not only competing against every other Android manufacturer but also with themselves. Use all those resources and make one good model every 4-6 months with two or three variations and leave it alone. HTC learned it’s lesson (hopefully). Other manufacturers will soon or be forced out of the market.

  • jamal adam

    This is a clear example of overkill. By pushing out new Android phones like its raining, the ecosystem becomes oversaturated with devices that are much to similar and can also make it problematic for customers. Choice is wonderful and something that I thing is important but too much of it can be hazardous, especially when coming out with 16 new Android devices.

  • USA != world

    There are several countries where people actually BUY mobiles unlike USA where you get subsidized mobiles.
    When you have to spend your hard earned money choice is very important.

    Instead of getting a subsidized mobile try paying full price you will be glad there are choices :)

  • dudeman

    The number of phones released doesn’t make any difference–it’s not like Android OEMs ship updates promptly (or in the case of Samsung, ever) even with just a few “current” phones in flight.

    Also, every Japanese carrier does this–new phones four times a year in a dizzying variety of colors, and not just for smartphones. The Japanese market cares more about having a phone in a style they like rather than feature/spec lust. Singling Docomo out belies a lack of understanding of the Japanese mobile market; they just happen to be the largest carrier and the biggest Android proponent (sort of a pre-iPhone Verizon situation, where they have to promote *something* since they don’t have the iPhone).

  • Alex Belko

    I also heard they put ads and bloatware everywhere they must be stopped for the future of android)

  • Gustav

    Diversity and lots of options when it comes to hardware is one of the many things that make Android great. But foremost, why blame this on a carrier? Where I’m from, carriers just make our phones connect to a network and I’ve never bought a phone on contract. I started using mobile phones in 1997. You might find all the hardware options confusing, but don’t blame a Japanese carrier.

  • autonomousgerm

    You are missing the point. This is exactly what Google wants. They don’t want to support new devices with OS updates, they don’t want longevity out of their devices, they want them to be disposable. They are an advertising company, so they are going for cheap and total saturation.

  • Silver

    Hmm…

    In America we have Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, and some other companies that I might have forgotten. If each of them release 2 phones this , we get around like 10 new android phones. In Japan, there’s Fujitsu, Panasonic, LG, Sharp, Toshiba, Sony and Samsung. If each of the company releases at least 2 phones, we get at least 14 new android phones.

    I think it’s mainly the problem with so many companies making phones. Of course Docomo could limit it but they didn’t. Isn’t it just like the carriers here in America? We don’t really just say “Hey, too many phones are being released! We will only take this and this and this but not the others.”

    Furthermore there’s also the mobile culture of Japan that is different. They like a lot of variety in style. To even add more variety, Japan also have the obsession with phone straps with tons of designs. To simply use Docomo as a way to state your point seems kind of bad because it makes you look like you don’t take culture and other things into consideration.

    • leaponover

      I was hoping someone would bring this up. It was really ballsy to write an article about a carrier from another country’s decision on how many phones they would carry. Thanks for pointing this out Silver!

  • okfourme

    Wow, while I generally agree with your sentiment that manufacturers would do better by releasing fewer, better supported devices and that carriers should keep their hands off this article displays some lacking of understanding of how global mobile markets work.

    First of all I would like to propose three different, albeit simplified, models that are prevalent globally:
    The EU model: Carriers are controlled, total freedom for the consumer and handset makers, you buy your device either from your carrier (possibly locked but always unlockable) or unlocked from any electronics store and then choose freely among all carriers plans. You can switch carriers freely or bind yourself to one for some subsidies. All of this made possible by a EU-wide standardisation on UMTS and GSM before that, as well as controlled frequency licensing (we’ll see how this plays out after the frequency chaos surrounding LTE). High mobility and competition results in cheap plans.

    The USA model: A little carrier control, little freedom for the consumer and demands pushed on handset manufacturers. Chaotic frequency licensing and a plethora of conflicting network technologies makes life hard for the consumer. Depending on the frequency support of a handset you may or may not move between carriers while keeping your phone. The carriers push their weight around and try to control as much as they can, from meddling with handset makers over the specs and software of their models to encouraging consumers to lock themselves in by offering large subsidies and financing these by relatively large amounts of bloatware. Relatively low mobility results in quite expensive plans.

    The Japanese model: Carriers in total control, very little freedom for consumers and handset makers under the thumb of the carriers. The carriers specify baseline specs for their model lineups which are released all at once at set times a couple of times a year. The SoCs are chosen to support the networks of the carrier and the carriers cooperate with the handset makers on drivers and compatibility as well as the software stack and OS. In the case of Android all models of a lineup tend to run the exact same version of the OS at launch and more often than not include tweaks specified by the carrier (case in point DoCoMos Samsungs Galaxy phones lack TouchWiz but have other tweaks instead) resulting in some consistency within a carriers but discrepancies between carriers. SIM-locks are the norm and the possibility to unlock phones was only introduced last year resulting in consumers only switching carriers when they change handsets. Thus carriers offer subsidies on handsets and plans to try and lock consumers into long contracts. Some differences in network technology also contribute to making switching carriers while keeping your phone difficult. Low mobility result in very expensive plans (especially if not binding yourself to a carrier for on average two years).

    Now, not all of this information is relevant to the article and I apologise for straying off topic. The point I’m trying to make is that, while I don’t like the Japanese model myself, there is much more control and standardisation than in the American model for example. A little bit like every carrier having their own “Nexus-light” series (emphasis on the “light” part though) making things quite a bit less chaotic.
    Having worked in app-development in Japan let me also answer some of your other ponderings.
    Q. “Are case makers stumbling around, trying to get several different designs made up for each of the 16 phones announced?”
    A. There is very little stumbling involved. The carriers cooporate with the largest accessory makers and at launch every large electroincs shop will carry cases, screen protectors and other acessories for all these models.

    Q. “Has Docomo sat down with all the manufacturers who are providing handsets to discuss how and when the next updates will be delivered to those handsets?”
    A. As explained above, yes, to a certain extent. Network stability issues and such are handled in cooperation while large OS upgrades are mostly in the hands of the handset makers.

    Q. “Do popular Japanese app developers plan to run out and buy 16 new phones this summer to ensure app compatibility?”
    A. Yes. Japan is a large enough market in-and-of-itself, with a culture of app- and sercvice-purchases that predate smartphones, to support most app-developers not directing their efforts outside the country making life a lot easier than for global actors.

    Right, this turned out much longer than I intended but let me finish on a sidenote anyway. I find the notion that Motorola is some kind of huge player globally that Americans seem to harbour quite amusing. It may be a big player in the USA but their presence on the global market is more in line with the likes of LG, ZTE and Huawei than Samsung or HTC.

    Cheers.