Sacrificing Android Innovation With Customers In Mind

Sacrificing Android Innovation With Customers In Mind

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Every year OEMs bring out countless new devices, with ‘new and improved’ features, in an attempt to sate our hunger for technology. However, how much control do we really have on these developments? Is the market being guided and directed by consumers, or are we blindly following the breadcrumb path set to make us think we’re getting more with each step?

Market Demographics: What Do We Really Want

nexus5-blueprintSmartphone users are everywhere – eighty percent of us have one in our pocket or on our person right now, according to a global survey earlier this year – so it’s unsurprising that we’re a diverse bunch. Even here in the XDA community, our needs vary wildly by region, culture, and lifestyle. However, if there’s one unifying distinction to which our community can point, it’s that we think of ourselves as power users (one way or another). In this vein, we often forget about the needs of mainstream Android. This article seeks to bring the needs of the undervalued majority back into our discussion. After all, these mainstream users are the ones to whom OEMs market the phones we all buy.

In broad strokes, mainstream users tend towards the aesthetic, commercial and social applications of their devices. We can further subdivide the market into two groups: the enthusiasts who chase the latest and greatest in their preferred element, whether it be the superior playback of the HTC M-Series, or the phenomenal camera you get with most Samsung devices. And those that are content on having devices that cater to their needs but don’t really stand out with the front-runners, typically just older models.

Therefore, the search for a new phone generally manifests as a search for “what I already have, but better.” Camera enthusiasts seek better low-light recording and more megapixels. For audiophiles, the order of the day is two front-facing speakers instead of one. This is pretty simple for OEMs to cater to, as each flagship device only needs to improve one element to keep its consumer base happy. However, this is not always enough as it often causes the new device to fail in some other aspect due to the requirements of their ’key element’ (and sometimes, gimmick). Tight designs, extra components, lower price tags – we have felt this push in 2015 more than ever before.

Supply and Demand: Do We Get What We Asked For

Regardless of the phone you pick… you will be likely to have a good experience with each new model

This leaves us with a very good question… Do we get what we ask for? The short answer is simple. Yes, or at least we mostly do with Android. Because Android is a platform and not a phone, it is not tied down to one OEM, unlike iOS and Windows. This means that OEMs are free to make whatever device they see fit, supporting the same operating system. And as no two manufacturers want to make the same phone, this gives us a wide variety of choice when it comes to selecting a device because there is something for everyone. Regardless of the phone you pick and why you picked it, as long as you consciously chose it to match your needs, you will be likely to have a good experience with each new model. However, just because it’s good it doesn’t mean it is unique.

You will certainly find that each of these separate experiences are remarkably similar in one aspect. Although they might be fantastic for what you wanted them for, each device will most likely have a compromise. This is due to a problem of prioritization. Take the HTC One M9 for example – it does indeed have the M-Series trademark BoomSound sound system and front-facing speakers, but suffers from severe throttling and battery life that is consistently pegged by users as sub-par. Examples like this indeed show that what we want out of a new device may not always be the best thing for the device, as any feature or upgrade can produce unforeseen compromises.

The Little Guys: The Power User Demographic

As mentioned earlier, there is another, much smaller demographic: power users. These are users that have a higher knowledge and understanding of how their devices work, and thus use more advanced features. As power users we want slightly different things to the mainstream demographic. We are less concerned about cameras and sound systems, and more concerned about developer support, battery life, and the limits to which a processor can be pushed without becoming a fire hazard. Furthermore, though power users are a much smaller demographic, our desires are often considered by OEMs for new flagship devices.

Honor, OnePlus, and RedditThis is, despite our lack of numbers, because power users often run or read review sites, and so we do have an effect on certain developments. This is helped by the fact that some OEMs have shied away from the mainstream market or, in the case of Huawei, created sub-companies aimed specifically at power users. OEMs such as Motorola and OnePlus have a high interaction with Reddit’s and other forum sites’ users. Such connection allows power users to slightly influence the direction they take with their devices. Huawei took a different approach and created a separate branch called Honor. Honor phones are aimed at Digital Natives, which is incidentally our new favorite buzzword joke around the office, but still implies a power user focus.

Smoke And Mirrors: False Advertising, Broken Promises, Misleading Claims

More problems arise when you ask two slightly different questions. Do we get what is promised to us and are we always told the (whole) truth? Recent releases have certainly shown that we do not and are not.

In recent months, there have been a number of blunders from handset makers and their suppliers. For example, Samsung told us that we could expect a lagless TouchWiz UI and octa-core ready processors in the S4. What we received was stuttering performance and two different S4 variants, each with a different octa-core setup, and neither of which worked to an efficient extent.

S810 BenchmarkThe big story this year, however, was the public relations rigamarole of spin session that came from Qualcomm’s handling of it’s Snapdragon 810. By this I mean the misleading statements given by some review sites where details of the processor’s performance were glazed over, and the spin from Qualcomm’s Marketing VP Tim McDonough when he claimed there was “no overheating issue with the Snapdragon 810 in commercial devices.” While this is indeed true, the rumors were not questioning the commercial devices, but the processor itself. There was indeed a heating issue with the processor when it performed at its advertised specs, and commercial units were forced to throttle as a makeshift fix.

Further Reading
On Qualcomm’s Damage Control: Marketing and Rumors – A chipset alone can not condemn a phone, and software can mitigate many shortcomings. But performance downgrades in such a heated business are, in fact, issues – especially when marketing teams and websites go out of their way to mitigate that they are.

The Eternal Struggle: Are Our Expectations Achievable

Another question to ask is “are we expecting too much?” We are all waiting for one OEM or another to release the ‘perfect phone’, but is that even possible? Who’s perfect phone will it be? The problem is everyone’s idea of a perfect phone is different. Some massively so. Some people want big phones, some small. Some people want a touchscreen, some want a physical feedback keyboard and some like having both. Its a paradoxical struggle that leaves the market as whole unsatisfied.

Even ignoring this and assuming that everyone wants the same thing in regards to dimensions and functionality. Is it even possible to combine all of the components we desire as a market whole. A phone that has an impeccable camera; excellent sound quality; efficient battery usage; a fast and responsive UI; a beautiful, crystal-clear display; and all this while keeping a low heat signature. It’s just not possible!

Further Reading
Editorial: Why We’ll Never Have The Perfect Phone – We should of course always strive for progress, but for now we still have some great technology in our hands. We may never see that perfect phone, but we will see some great devices along the journey.

Conclusion

It is often asked whether consumerism controls innovation of whether innovation controls the consumer. Perhaps there is no right answer. However, I believe that it is, has, and always will be a mixture of both. Without consumer input, we have no goals towards which to strive, no expectations to meet, and thus no innovation. Likewise, without innovation, the consumer would be lost on what to expect. What both OEMs and consumers need to learn is that sometimes it’s better to forgo focusing on individual features like the cameras and speakers in order to improve the entire phone as a whole. This would then allow us to create these unique keystones without sacrificing performance.

 

Where do you see the role of OEMs in creating individualized and innovative products? Should we err on the side of consumerism or innovation?