A recently released survey in the UK lists Android as the platform most likely to develop hardware faults. The survey of over 600,000 technical support calls over the past 12 months was conducted by WDS. Research in Motion grabbed the top spot with 3.7% of Blackberry support calls related to hardware issues, followed by Apple with 8%. Windows Phone devices rounded out third with 9% of its calls while Android fell into last place with 14%.
It's easy to see what allows RIM and Apple to top out the list: Control. Both RIM and Apple produce both the hardware and software that run on their devices, allowing fine tuned control over how the phone functions. It's no wonder why Blackberry and iOS devices are often lauded for their battery life and reliability. RIM goes a step further and puts its devices through a battery of tests to ensure durability before the device is shipped out to thousands of business users around the world. Microsoft also exercises a similar, though less extreme, heavy hand over hardware for its platform. All Windows Phone devices must meet a minimum hardware spec in order to be granted the Redmond seal of approval.
So what happened with Android? Critics are quick to point out that hardware flaws are yet another side effect of the platform's fragmentation, a term that has undoubtedly become a four letter word to Google. The fact is this: anybody at any time can put Android on any device they please without so much as a phone call or handshake. More restrictions are placed on devices that wish to garner the "with Google" certification, but even then there is not a mandatory hardware approval process. In addition, Android at it's core is designed to run not only on an extremely wide variety of phone chassis, but also netbooks, tablets, and kiosks. We've even seen Android running on competing devices such as the HTC HD2 and Apple iPhone. This makes hardware specialization all the more difficult.
The smartphone market is moving rapidly, and there's no doubt at all that Android has allowed manufacturers to increase research and development cycles because of the adaptable nature of the OS. Because the industry is moving at such breakneck speed, it's possible manufacturers and carriers are rushing products out of the door before they've been fully tested in an effort to gain the edge over competitors. We're looking at much shorter "time to market" on today's smartphones than in prior years.
But Android's greatest weakness might be, in fact, its greatest strength. The very fact that there is no hardware approval process from Google means that products are easier to push out faster. In addition, it's allowed a large variety of form factors to surface that were previously not possible. From dual-screen convertible phones like the Kyocera Echo to breakthrough next-generation 3D display devices like the LG Optimus 3D, it seems that every time we've reached the limit of what we can do with hardware, someone always come along to push the platform further. In addition, the rapid development cycle of Android devices has created positive pressure on other platforms to increase hardware iteration cycles. Some manufacturers, like RIM, are struggling to keep up.
The take away is this: there is no clear right or wrong way of developing a phone. Whether it's slow and steady like Apple or a constant sprint like Android, we've seen many successful models. What Android manufacturers now need to concern themselves with is making sure that the quality is not being sacrificed for the sake of quantity.
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