The Android User Experience

I was in Bangkok recently, and met an Android user who just wanted to know the basics of getting stuff working on his Android. Simple things like tethering, making it into a WiFi hotspot, and more were questions he had. Android logo

I whipped my Nexus One out and told him it all just worked. It’s running Android 2.2. He was impressed. He thought he was also running Android 2.2, until I checked. It was some HTC make that he had purchased recently (circa mid-to-late-2009), and it was running Android 1.6 (if I remember correctly). The fact that I cannot remember is in itself a problem for Android device manufacturers – there are so many out there, and while its great to have choice, it sure as heck complicates things. But that’s a matter for another post.

I told him to get the software upgraded. He had gone back to his place, tried it out, and it didn’t work, since there was no update available. Lucky for him, HTC happened to be a sponsor for BarCamp Bangkok 4. So he went up to their booth to ask, and they told him flat out, there was no Android 2.2 available for his phone. He would have to buy one, and there seemed to be a THB1,000 discount.

This was a phone that is no older than a year. Its similar to my Nexus One in age. It is not operator locked, there is no contract, yet with these Android phones, you are at the mercy of your manufacturer to release a software update to your phone. What is their incentive, considering they are rolling out new hardware on such a regular basis?

I look at Apple, and see iOS4. Support for it goes back all the way to the iPhone 3G (released in 2008). So it does not work on the original iPhone released in 2007, and multitasking only works on the iPhone 3GS (2009) and the new iPhone 4 (2010). But it seems like Apple is giving it a good three year release cycle of support so far.

Android has about a six-month release cycle for the operating system. Device manufacturers are probably releasing new hardware around that time-frame. While people are raving about statistics that over 70% of Android devices out there are running some form of Android 2.x (either 2.1: 40.8% or 2.2: 36.2%), it still leaves about 30% not getting a lot of functionality. Heck, functionality that only 36% of Android users get, the others want! Again I ask: what is a manufacturer’s incentive to release software updates, considering they are rolling out new hardware on such a regular basis?

There is no consistent user-experience across the board. What works on my clean install Android device, is very different to what others who have software carriers mucking with the software, as well as the handset manufacturers. They’re not getting the “pure” Android experience, and they are unable to share experiences with others.

Gingerbread, aka Android 2.3 is just around the corner. It will (likely) work on my Google-issue HTC Nexus One. It will not work on all those other beautiful devices out there, until their manufacturers say they should.


  1. Carolyn Chan says:

    that's the problem with android. i'm happy in iOS land.

  2. Yuen-Chi Lian says:

    I like to tell Android users that they're not using an Android until they root it.

    I bet the person you met is using a Magic, which shares the same faith with mine if I insisted on official ROM update (which I didn't, I rooted and flashed with Cyanogen after 2 months buying it).

    What made me tad annoyed is the number of Android handsets that we have in the market (which you addressed in post too). Just for HTC alone, I have given up recommending a specific model but go with saying “just get the latest and faster” – at least that guarantees a longer hardware life.

    Yes, the hardware life. My phone has been pushed to the limit for what it can deliver, I have to enable all the performance tweaks (compcache, JIT, etc.), and it still can't do many – Swype can't run smooth, no live wallpaper, no Angry Bird. That also explains why there's no official ROM update.

    iPhone users are the winners.

    • colincharles says:


      Rooting the phone is not something end users really want to do. Which do they pick? What happens if something goes wrong? End users where Android is growing now, have no interest in rooting it.

      You can't get live wallpaper or Angry Birds? Why?

      Well, I can't get Swype on my Nexus One either… Not “legally” anyway, since they've closed the beta…


      • Yuen-Chi Lian says:

        > You can't get live wallpaper or Angry Birds? Why?

        Hardware limitation ;D

        I got Swype legally, just apply for its beta and the wait is not too long. :)

        • Yuen-Chi Lian says:

          In response to rooting, yes, rooting this word is alien to them.

          What a manufacturer gotta do at the end of the day is to gauge the mood of the consumers. Releasing new hardware seems to be an easy way to get more handsets sold, but at the same time will piss the existing user base.

          Given the competition is so open and strong, things (newer handsets) will just turn worse.

  3. ziz says:

    interesting, ive only recently moved into this whole area, skipping all the apple spin and allowing myself to fall into a samsung galaxy S. The reasons i chose to do so were primarily due to the fact that most of my real connectivity is handled by or managed by google and gmail. But, i found the link between google webware and the phone to be really not that well thought out, perhaps thats as you suggest due to manufacturer's quirks. But i don't know,.. im still surprised with what i can do with the phone know that i've had time to get to know it. So overall the experience is positive.

    The comparison of hardware life cycles isn't particularly fair IMHO, Apple push people into upgrade paths for both hardware and software, quite unashamedly, so the fact that the o/s would function on an old handset isnt really of much use to anyone, they are all landfill.

    • colincharles says:

      Hey ziz! Long time no chat.

      Everyone I know that has a Samsung Galaxy S is truly happy with their product. In fact, its been argued by some that its the best Android-based phone out there at the moment.

      Have you just got the 2.2 update? Are you enjoying all the new features?

      Re: Apple… They push their “fanboys” to upgrade quite quickly, but I know many people still using the original iPhone as well as the iPhone 3G. Most phone users don't see the need to upgrade every time Steve Jobs says they should. Might also be that some are locked into 2-3 year contracts for their phones…

  4. 5crum says:

    Carolyn: Yes that one *small* disadvantage which is specific to a very small number of handsets, definitely outweighs the 101 restrictions Apple puts on their units.

    Even 1.6 can tether out of the box, install file browsers and open multiple applications at the same time.

    Anyway the update issue was really an issue with phones that had 1.6 and prior as rom updates couldn't be pushed straight to the phone or even notifications that an update was ready I believe. Updates had to be downloaded from the providers website and installed on the handset via sync software on a windows pc!

    This meant that when an update was ready only a very small number of geeks and people in the loop were making use of it, therefor poor ROI for the handset producer.

    I had an HTC Hero on 1.6, so I know all about this, I weighted a very long time for a 2.1 update. Compare that to post 1.6 models which can push an update straight to the phone, my HTC Desire which shipped with 2.1, prompted me to upgrade to 2.2 the very first time that I turned it on.

    • colincharles says:

      The Samsung Galaxy S which came with 2.1, only recently received Android 2.2 this past week. I've been using 2.2 for quite some time on my Nexus One.

      So while it might be easier for manufacturers to push out updates, it does not mean they're doing that with speed.

      • 5crum says:

        Well this is the great thing with Android, we have a choice. We can vote with our wallets and choose a hardware provider that's offering what we want.

  5. Chris says:

    iOS4 might install on an iPhone 3G, but it makes it run pretty slowly – perhaps as an encouragement for people to upgrade to new hardware :-)

    • colincharles says:

      Is this true? I've seen several people run it just fine and not complain. There's no multi-tasking, but they don't seem to miss what they don't already have ;-)

  6. Thanks for letting us know.
    I got an upgrade for my HTC phoneseveral months ago, and nothing more. I assumedthat they were customizing the OS for the specific model, but apparently they are not.

    So, Apple users are subjected to the whim of one company, and Android users are subjected to the whims of many companies, and such whims may change. Oh, the beauties of open source!
    My determination to buy a Nexus is even stronger. I hope I can find one.