Back in 2008, Google’s Android OS could only be found on one device, the HTC G1. The device was exclusive to T-Mobile, which ranks fourth among wireless carriers in the US. The HTC G1 was a capable phone, but it wasn’t on par with the specs or build quality of Apple’s iPhone. With the increasing market for smartphones and in particular Android devices, this has helped drive innovation among manufacturers.
Since Android is open source, manufacturers look for ways to differentiate themselves. Companies like HTC have developed a software overlay they call “Sense” that changes and improves upon the user interface of the stock Android OS. Not to be left out, Motorola has developed a similar overlay called MotoBlur. Through software, these companies hope to differentiate themselves from other Android devices. Motorola’s user interface is designed with social media in mind. Customers looking for a more robust Facebook experience will likely gravitate to an Android phone with MotoBlur.
At the core of all these phones is the Android OS. While companies will introduce tweaks to the use interface using Sense or MotoBlur, this simply isn’t enough to drive sales of phones. In the past year, there have been a number of phones released from HTC, Motorola, Samsung and LG. With each release, there has been a significant bump in features. Cameras have seen increases from 3 megapixels to 8 megapixels. Displays now span 4.3 inches. There have also been increases in the amount of storage memory and processing power. Only Apple’s iPhone runs their iOS. With Android, customers can choose from a variety of devices across all the major US wireless carriers. With this level of standardization and choice, phones are seeing feature upgrades every two to three months. Manufacturers are no longer releasing phones to compete with today’s market, but they need to build more impressive phones to compete with the next generation of phones. In the past, the product lifecycle would be one or two years. That’s accelerated whereby a phone is competitive for three to six months at best.
At some point, the feature race will have similarities to the megapixel race that occurred with digital cameras. At some point, there are only so many megapixels needed to print an 8×10 photo. Similarly, you can only make a screen so big and processor so fast. Eventually, we’ll reach a point where consumers are going to look for other factors when determining their next smartphone purchase. This is likely to be in the design elements of the phone or the quality of the camera optics.
The last few years have seen tremendous demand for Android phones and this is likely to continue. The competitive marketplace has been the cause for increasing innovation among smartphone manufacturers. In the end, consumers have reaped the benefits with improved features and software. Expect the innovation to continue, with the focus gradually shifting from specifications to design elements and further improvements to features that are most important to consumers.
Michael is a writer for Everything Android where he covers Android news and writes reviews of Droid X cases and Samsung Captivate cases. When he’s not writing, you can often find him helping out new users in the site’s Android forums.