By Harry McCracken | Monday, August 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm
“The Dirty Little Secret About Google Android.” That’s the provocative title of a TechRepublic post today by my friend Jason Hiner. Jason points out, correctly, that for all Google’s talk of openness, Android hasn’t done much to open up the experience of buying and using a wireless phone. In nearly all cases, you’re buying an Android phone that’s tied to a particular carrier–and oftentimes one that the carrier has preloaded with so-so applications, crippled by removing the ability to install unauthorized apps, or otherwise made worse, not better, than a phone with a virgin install of the operating system.
Android, in other words, mostly seems “open” to whatever decisions hardware manufacturers and carriers want to make. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
But even if Google used the OS as a battering ram to smash current assumptions about the phone industry, there are plenty of other Dirty Little Secrets standing in the way of an era in which we can all buy cool, crud-free phones from any manufacturer we like and use them with the carrier of our choice.
Such as these two:
Dirty Little Secret #2: Our addiction to cheap phones. Americans like to pay $199 (or sometimes much less or nothing at all) for phones which are increasingly sophisticated consumer-electronics devices. So we buy our phones from carriers rather than manufacturers and agree to long-term contracts in return for a price break. That puts the carrier in control in a way that would never be the case if we bought phones the way we buy PCs.
Dirty Little Secret #3: Other than Apple, I’m not sure if any there’s any phone maker whose untampered-with work would be a masterpiece. The existence of the iPhone proves that it’s possible to buy a subsidized phone that’s (mostly) unsullied by bad ideas forced upon it by a carrier. But it may be a unique situation. With the Nexus One, Google got the chance to do an Android device its own way. It designed a good phone, but not one that’s transcendently better than the best Android handsets that carriers have a say in. And Android, for all the things that are right with it, is still rife with usability issues you can’t blame on anybody but Google. Basically, most platforms other than the iPhone’s iOS (and maybe HP’s WebOS) have more severe problems than carrier interference.
I could go on, but do you have any other Dirty Little Secrets to add to the list?