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.