March 13, 2010 | by Ed Clark
An iPhone-owner friend of mine recently sent me an article by Michael Gartenberg, author of the Entelligence column on Engadget. Mr. Gartenberg’s article, “Entelligence: Will Android fragmentation destroy the platform?”, presents some interesting things to consider, but is surprisingly inaccurate on a number of critical details. I thought it would be useful to summarize his points here and dissect the major arguments presented, many of which have been parroted by iPhone fans for quite some time now. While Mr. Gartenberg’s statements may help Apple fans feel a bit better about the phones in their pockets, there are some good reasons for the rest of us to question his conclusions.
1. Fragmentation and Linux
Gartenberg compares the current Android milieu to that of the Linux OS, where far too many different flavors of Linux have left it a minor player in the global PC desktop market. In essence, manufacturers and customers have too many choices when it comes to Linux, and so cannot choose. While this may seem to be a reasonable comparison at first glance, there is at least one key difference that Gartenberg neglects to consider: Major PC manufacturers have never committed themselves to the Linux operating system.
Here is what I mean: You can buy a Dell with Linux, but the vast majority of buyers will order theirs with some version of Windows. HP also offers some Linux pre-installations, but the bulk of its sales also come from Windows machines. Can you think of a major manufacturer that has decided to base significant portions of its desktop sales on Linux installations? I can’t.
The same is not true of Android. Everyone knows HTC as the “Android phone maker.” Motorola–a fairly huge company in the mobile phone market–has also committed to Android. Samsung has decided to launch a number of Android-based devices as well, and even Dell has decided that its first forays into the mobile phone market will be based on Android.
As you can see, these are all Android devices, and the manufacturers offering them are not going to allow you to order them with some other operating system. These companies are betting that their devices will sell better with the Android OS than with some other OS. That doesn’t sound much like the Linux situation to me.
2. (Not so) Ancient history, Sense UI, Blur, and Android’s version problem
What this does sound like is history repeating itself. Way back in the early 80′s, Apple was on top of the world, and you could only run the Apple OS on a few select machines. PC clones became Apple’s major competitor, and most of them chose to run Microsoft’s DOS system. Different vendors offered customizations that ran on top of DOS to offer different graphical interfaces. These include Digital Research’s Graphical Environment Manager (GEM) and Tandy’s DeskMate, both of which offered users some new graphical ways to interact with the core OS.
Hmm. Does this sound a bit like the Sense UI and Motorola Blur overlays to anyone else?
Then, like now, there were many different versions of Microsoft operating systems on the market. (In fact, I can still buy machines with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 at the store today.) In the end, we all know what happened. Because Apple would only allow Apple hardware (and yes, one or two unfortunate clones with pre-installed daggers in their backs) to run its OS, while new PC makers were able to come to market with any version of Microsoft’s OS, Apple lost its market share and nearly went out of business. And a certain famous executive lost his job along the way.
3. An unEntelligent attack?
Gartenberg loses credibility towards the end of his piece. He attacks “an Android enthusiast site” for reporting that Google has promised Android 2.1 for every Android device. He says: “Well, that’s all well and good and smiles and rainbows, but an unverified blog post from some Android enthusiasts isn’t exactly canon to me.” Ouch. Androidandme, you have been served.
(And excuse me, Mr. Gartenberg, but don’t you write for a technology enthusiast site that posts rumors all the time?)
For what it’s worth, I have also heard through my own connections that this particular rumor is true. I also find it telling that versions of 2.1 have already been hacked to run on even the oldest Android model, the G1. But I guess we will see.
Gartenberg also says that older Android releases “such as 1.5 or 1.6…lack newer core features like Google Maps Navigation.” That’s not true, and a quick fact check would show that every G1 owner in the US has navigation now if they bothered to update their Google Maps app.
He wraps up his piece with another quick jab: “I recently tried to install one of the few good Android games and found it won’t work on Nexus One as it has a nonstandard screen resolution.”
Aw, man! He didn’t even tell us poor Android users what that “one of the few good games” was! Just so he knows, I have installed over 40 games on my G1 and my Nexus One, and have yet to see a game fail because of screen resolution issues. Maybe I’m just lucky, or perhaps I don’t enjoy good games.
As a middle-aged guy, I do remember one last thing about those times way back in the early 80′s. Apple owners like me liked to tease our poor PC-clone friends with statements like this:
“Man, the games suck on those things.”
We all know how that turned out, too.