By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm
Wasn’t there a time when Verizon’s Droid was the hottest Android phone in the nation? Sure–but it ended on January 5th, when Google launched the Nexus One. The Droid runs Android 2.0.1; the Nexus One packs Android 2.1 and some custom Google tweaks. And the difference is more than a minor technical matter.
Yesterday, Google announced Google Earth for Android. It looks neat–and it requires Android 2.1, so it won’t run on the less-than-four-months-old Droid. That’ll get fixed when Verizon rolls out an update for the Droid, which may happen soon. But it points out frustrating, potentially crippling issues with Android: The platform is splintering, and it’s changing so rapidly that the majority of Android handsets feel stale. Even the Droid–I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that Amazon is selling it for fifty bucks, or one-quarter of Verizon’s original after-rebate price.
Over at InfoWorld, Galen Gruman has a good post with more evidence of Android’s fractured nature. There are multiple, incompatible versions of the OS out there, and I don’t know of any good reason to think the situation’s going to get better rather than worse. Google surely isn’t setting a good example by releasing an Android version of Google Earth which won’t run on most Android phones.
Do I need to recap the situation with Apple’s iPhone OS? It gets only one major upgrade a year, instantly available to all owners of existing devices, and all software works on any iPhone OS gizmo that has the proper hardware.
Android will never be like that, of course: It’s an open-source product that runs on an array of gadgets with varying hardware specs and capabilities. But how big a bummer is it going to be if it takes a nerdish interest in version numbers to determine if a given app works on your phone? Isn’t it a problem if the hot Android phone of the 2009 holiday season feels stale by February, even if the situation is somewhat temporary?
In short, wouldn’t it be healthy for Android if it evolved a little more slowly, and everyone responsible for its fate agreed that compatibility is a key goal?