Android in 2011: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Android in 2011: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

You would think that with close to 50% of the smartphone world now using an Android phone, looking back at 2011 would be a uniformly positive experience. Yet it is not – in fact, it is easier for me to draw up a list of very negative things than an equally list of positives. Of course, some will say ‘that is because you hate Google and Samsung and Android and never say anything nice about them’. Am I critical? Certainly … but I believe I am just pointing out things too many folks gloss over – ironically the same folks who get enraged about folks glossing over Apple’s many flaws (which I have been happy to point out as well).

Bottom line for me: I entered 2011 using my 2nd Android smartphone, leave it using my 3rd, and hope to soon be on my 4th which will last me into 2012. In other words, I am a loyal Android user – I have a Windows Phone 7.5 Mango phone (HTC 7 Pro) and know that OS won’t be my ‘daily driver’ anytime soon; I have loads of Apple products I use regularly but no interest in an iPhone right now because it doesn’t meet my personal needs the way Android does right now. But that loyalty doesn’t blind me to the issues the platform faces … in fact, it makes me astonished at the extent to which otherwise intelligent people choose to ignore the same things they criticized on other platforms.

But rather than delve too deeply into these issues, I am just going to give a quick set of 5 positive and negative things about Android in 2011, one bonus entry that is a bit of both … and my hopes for 2012!


  • Market Growth: I am talking here about not just the market SHARE growth, but the way that ubiquitous and cheap Android phones have enabled just about anyone to get in on the smartphone fun. Also, in 2011 more than ever, a crop of high-end super-phones have broadened appeal to even more tech geeks than ever before to jump from certain platforms (RIM, Windows Mobile and Symbian).
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Let’s be honest, in 2010 and through the middle of 2011 the stuff Samsung was putting out looked like the iPhone, to the extent of being widely determined to legally infringe on the Apple design. So it is a great thing to be able to see Samsung actually do some original design work, and come up with a great centerpiece phone. It is far from perfect, but it is a great device and one of the best phones of 2011.
  • Ice Cream Sandwich: After the embarrassment of Vista Honeycomb, Google needed a win, and got it with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0. Designed to fuse phone and tablet platforms, and to eliminate much of the cobbled-together feel of Gingerbread, ICS seems like a great step in the right direction.
  • Choices for everyone: If you are a fan of huge screens, small phones, thin phones, Blackberry-likes, QWERTY sliders or just about anything else, there is an Android phone for you. With 93 Android phones released in the US market, if you can’t find a 2011 phone … chances are you don’t want an Android phone!
  • Making 7″ tablets viable (albeit only for Amazon): Steve Jobs famously called 7″ tablets ‘Dead on Arrival”. And until November 15th he was 100% right – then came Amazon with the Kindle Fire. The usability ratings were poor, reviews were mediocre, return rate is reportedly higher than the already high rate for Android devices – but MILLIONS were sold, and many folks are like me: they love them. I have found it hits a sweet spot in media consumption, allowing adequate storage combined with excellent streaming, making a solid device.


  • The Obvious DOS/Windows/Windows Mobile Link: I have said it repeatedly: Android is like DOS with all of the storage limits and tricks and utilities to get around them. Every time I use App2SD I know I am doing the 2011 version of the Autoexec/Config dance. It was crap design then, it is crap design now. But there is more – the lack of a unified abstraction model that allows seamless gaming across devices and hardware reminds me of … Windows 95/98, before DirectX came to town. Windows gaming was a mess then, just like Android gaming is a mess now. However, back then our only choice was playing older DOS games, now we can just stick with inherently superior iOS gaming. Finally, EVERYTHING about Android in 2011 is just like Windows Mobile several years ago – finger pointing from OS to hardware to carrier, slow if ever updates, fragmentation, and on and on. It didn’t end well for Microsoft, and that worries me since we seem to be doing the same thing and expecting different results (which is the ‘definition of insanity’).
  • Tablets / Honeycomb: Again, let’s be real – Honeycomb is an embarrassment, and the ‘Vista’ of the mobile world. Like Vista, it drove manufacturers to use an older OS, and like Vista it was widely panned as ‘half-baked’ on release. It is slow and bloated and poorly designed … and the sooner it is gone the better.
  • Fragmentation: Recently Gameloft had a sale, and with one game NONE of the 12 devices linked to my Android Market account were compatible. We’re talking all name brand devices, most with 1GHZ or better dual core processors, some with Tegra 2 chipsets, and so on. 2011 was supposed to be the year fragmentation went away … well, it didn’t.
  • Non-Focus on the Customer (OS updates): Last week we learned via The Verge and The Next Web that neither the Samsung Galaxy S nor Galaxy Tab will be getting upgraded to ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’. Both The Verge and The Next Web have interesting articles about this, but let me sum it up for you: If you own the one of the best selling Android phones or Android tablets, devices that were essentially flagships of the brand during much of 2011 … your device is almost certainly under contract, but you can forget about getting an OS update. So … WHO is fighting for the consumer? Google really doesn’t seem to care, Samsung makes money on hardware, so only the carriers benefit by keeping you tied to your account without having to subsidize a new phone.
  • Non-Focus on the Customer (Obsolescence): As noted, there were 93 Android phones released in the US in 2011. Guess how many are NOT obsolete? 2 – the Droid RAZR and Galaxy Nexus. There are plenty of good phones in that bunch, but with a 6 month overlapping product lifecycle, that means that about every three months your phone will be superseded by something better on the same carrier by the same manufacturer. Which in turn brings us back to not getting updates, lack of customer support, and so on.

Bonus Entry:

  • LTE/4G : this is both good AND bad. If you have seen the network speeds for anyone with a VZW Galaxy Nexus or (like me) played with one in a store, you know that it is FAST. Non-Verizon 4G solutions are also fast, just not quite as insane. And everyone is expanding their networks at a frantic pace, so before long most of the country will have these speeds. There were a ton of Android 4G devices last year, so there were plenty of choices. Of course, there is a huge downside – battery life is drastically lower. Also, sensitivity to low signal is worse than ever, meaning that a couple of hours in a ‘dead zone’ will be enough to kill your phone’s battery.

My Hopes for Android in 2012:

  • Consolidate the user experience: We just heard about the Holo system interface elements being required for Google Market devices, but Google needs to go further. Allowing physical buttons in different locations, myriad ‘default’ themes, and so on simply confuse and alienate the customer.
  • Focus on THE CUSTOMER: Google has to remember that Samsung isn’t the customer and Verizon isn’t the customer … WE are the customer. Keeping their supply chain happy is critical, but ultimately users pay the bills.
  • Guaranteed updates Here is my suggestion – if anyone buys a phone within 6 months of introduction by a carrier, they are guaranteed all x.x updates released within 18 months of purchase (2 years from launch), or Google mandates that the customer is given a replacement phone running the current OS.
  • Provide a unified gaming library: saying that iOS provides a uniformly superior gaming experience compared to Android is like saying the sky is blue. But there is no reason, just as there was no reason that Mac gaming lagged so terribly behind on similarly powerful hardware just a few years ago. Actually there is one reason: OS support for gaming. Google needs to do SOMETHING so that Android gaming stops sucking.
  • Yeah, that Fragmentation thing again This year saw huge moves to Gingerbread for phones, and hopefully by the end of 2012 50% of phones will be on Ice Cream Sandwich. Tablets are a disaster and will remain that way, but even a 50/50 split over a year just isn’t enough. When iOS 5 launched the shift of the population was so fast you could feel the tides shift in your coffee cup! Another proposal – for every ICS update for a phone released on OS 2.x, the handset maker gets one new license for Google stuff on a phone. THAT would change stuff up pretty fast!

What about you? What are your thoughts about Android in 2011 and 2012?

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!

3 Comments on "Android in 2011: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times"

  1. Wait wait wait – how are only the Galaxy Nexus and the Razr the only two phones that came out in 2011 that are not obsolete? What do you mean by “obsolete”?

    If it’s just about getting ICS – first, that’s not true. The HTC Rezound is getting ICS, as well as the Bionic. All of the Galaxy S2 devices are getting ICS. The Nexus S (some of these came out in 2011) are getting ICS. I don’t even know about other phones at Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, international carriers, etc. There are plenty of phones in addition to this that are confirmed to be getting ICS, and some may be added later (the Droid 3? the Droid Charge? The Moto Atrix? Incredible 2?)

    Second, I contest the supposition that having ICS is a requirement to not be obsolete (if that is, indeed, your measure of obsolescence.) There are very, very, very few apps on the Android market that require Honeycomb or ICS, and, until ICS has a significant market share, it will likely stay that way for probably the next two years (ie, a carrier contract cycle). And there are few things that ICS adds that you cannot do on GB phones, even if those phones remain on GB. (Face unlock? Almost real-time voice dictation? That’s about all that I can think of.)

    If obsolescence is measured by a phone no longer being sold; well, again, you have forgotten about the Rezound, the Bionic (still for sale – not superseded by the Razr – they are almost the same phone, with one appealing to people who want a thin phone, and the other appealing to people who want a removable battery), the Droid 3, plus, of course, all of the phones on Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and internationally.

    As for other issues, in addition to your comments about LTE, I’ll add that Verizon has had five nationwide data outages this year that I know of that lasted for more than 6 hours, all of which almost always affected the phone’s ability to receive a data signal of any sort. Many people have issues with Verizon LTE phones randomly dropping data, with only a phone restart, SIM card pull and reinsertion, or airplane mode toggle being the only solution. LTE is still in its infancy, and I am afraid that Verizon has rolled it out too fast. That said, I’d add that to your hopes for 2012: that LTE will stabilize on the network side, and that better radios will be developed that will not consume battery quite so quickly and also will allow more seamless 3G data transitions when necessary.

    As for this comment: “Google has to remember that Samsung isn’t the customer and Verizon isn’t the customer … WE are the customer.” I’m afraid that this is just not true, and will probably never be. Google makes the OS and licenses the ability to connect to Google services, like the market and Gmail, to the OEM manufacturers. They are their customers. Google already tried the direct sell method with the Nexus One, and it was pretty much a failure. Therefore, we have the continued model (at least in the US) that the manufacturers sell the phones to the carriers; they are the OEMs customers. We are (in almost all cases) customers of the carriers, and there is little that Google can do about it. Because Android’s source is open to the OEMs, they obviously can customize to suit their purposes. Google’s only leverage is the ability to connect to the Android market, and that has been greatly diminished by Amazon’s very successful Android market of their own. And, of course, since the OEMs cannot sell enough phones to us without carrier subsidies, the carriers will continue to have the power to specify their own specific requirements in order to get those subsidies. Our only choice as consumers (not customers, but consumers) to change this, it seems, is to buy nothing but Nexus devices.

    But one of the great advantages to Android is that there are so many great devices at so many different price points in so many configurations, that restricting us to only the Nexus devices restricts us as well from low-end devices that many may like, or keyboard-based phones that others may like, or smaller, pocketable phones, or larger slabs, or phones that deliver a great camera in addition to the Android OS. So, you see, because Android devices can be so many different things, and that appeals to so many of us in different ways, there just will never be the one single, great device that is everything to everybody that can deliver te leverage to the carriers and OEMs that we consumers will ONLY buy a phone that delivers all those things that you want.

  2. Quite the comment doogald!

    Obviously my intent was to make some largely ‘black or white’ statements to spur discussion.

    Obsolescence has many meanings, but is a more provocative term.  What I was getting at with that was that many phones have been launched as ‘flagship’ devices including HTC Thunderbolt, Droid Bionic, Samsung Galaxy S2, Droid Razr, and Galaxy Nexus. 

    Here is my position – once a ‘flagship’ is superceded by same manufacturer on same network, it is obsolete.  Still better than most phones, still quite usable, might even get an update – but it is *THE PAST*.

    Thunderbolt has so many issues that it is OK to just dismiss that as crap and say ‘sorry’ to anyone who bought one – and HTC has been having problems ever since, even seeing their overall business SHRINK in 2011.  Droid Bionic was a bit better, but once the Droid Razr came along … OBSOLETE.  Galaxy SII was a ‘flagship’ for ~3 weeks, now you’d have to be a fool (IMO of course) to pay more than $100 because it is on life support. 

    My proof is in the very well documented FACT that nearly NO Android phone gets all updates for the life of your contract.And that is pathetic and shameful. 

    As I say – and stand behind – Android is Windows Mobile.

    Also, while you are correct about the ‘business model’ of Android, something I agree with, ultimately all the money flows from consumers.  And if you continuously screw your customers, they will return the favor.  And I argue that more and more people are feeling a bit screwed by buying half-baked phones (Thunderbolt, Bionic) or half-baked technologies (LTE) … and not getting any feeling that they are rewarded for helping work out the issues of these things – sometimes not even by being kept up to date!  Look at the users of the Xoom – they bought into a promised LTE upgrade for upfront cash, then weren’t even the first on VZW with LTE!  Bottom line – there is no reason for loyalty, because each vendor will screw you (and has), and Google will only mandate things that protect their search business.  They fail to recognize that they are a smartphone company … and sadly consumers are paying the price for that.

    I agree with you that choice is a great strength of Android – which is why that is one of my strong positives!  I have two ‘free on contract’ phones I’m testing right now and they are quite good with only minor limitations.

    • Just a quick note that as of Nov 11, the Galaxy S2 was the top selling Android phone at AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, second only to the iPhone 4S at Sprint and AT&T. (Of course, it’s not for sale at Verizon.) I think that the Galaxy S2 is not a tired phone at all, and pretty equivalent in fact to the Bionic and Razr. (I actually think that the Rezound out-specs the Razr and Bionic, as I mentioned earlier, with its HD display.) Also, while iPhones do get OS updates for the life of contracts, plus, remember that they don’t all get feature updates, even if the feature can run on them. There is no Siri on the iPhone 4, and that is just so weird. Remember that the 3G, which did get iOS 4, got a version that was missing the multi-tasking features in the 3Gs and 4. And, don’t get me started on the disappointment so far of the iCloud implementation, especially the requirement that the Mac trying to sync in running Lion! But, of course, we are not talking about Apple here. 

      I like to play devil’s advocate a bit and turn the OS update question around like this: say that the Galaxy S2 never gets ICS (it will, but let’s say that it does not.) Exactly what will the phone not be able to go in Gingerbread that it cannot do in ICS?I do think it’s asinine that Samsung will not even try to build ICS for the Galaxy S line, especially knowing that the Nexus S can and will run ICS. But what are these phones not going to be able to do? How are even Froyo phones harmed by not having GB? Is there a large number of popular apps that required GB? In fact are there any popular apps that do not run on Froyo?Particularly to the vast majority of Android owners (not people like us, who tweak and install and uninstall apps and post all about on online sites like this – I mean people who see a smartphone as just a really cool phone that can also get email, twitter and facebook and play a few games really easily), I don’t think that users are being terribly harmed by not having more than one OS upgrade in the 20 to 24 month contract cycle of their smartphone.It’s great that Apple and Microsoft have managed to do this (Apple seemingly more successfully than Microsoft so far.) But I don’t think that a Droid X2 owner who bought the phone when it was relatively new is going to be terribly harmed if she stays on Gingerbread for another 14 to 16 months.

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