Are Google Android SmartPhones and Tablets Too Disposable?

Dave Courbanou

July 28, 2011

3 Min Read
Are Google Android SmartPhones and Tablets Too Disposable?

No one likes the idea that $500 tablet or smartphone they just purchased will be obsolete in just under a year’s time. Still, I’m starting to detect a trend in the Google Android device world. Unlike their Apple counterparts, it looks like Android devices are seemingly disposable and become outdated pretty darn quickly. Does that mean Android devices — and more frequent hardware purchases — will cost businesses more than Apple device refreshes over the long haul? Here are some thoughts.

Let’s start by looking at the Apple market. Currently, the iPhone 3GS — a phone that is well past its prime at over 2 years old — is still alive and kicking, selling well and serving up the latest and greatest apps from the App Store. The iPhone 3GS runs iOS 4, and it’s even slated for the iOS 5 upgrade. In theory, that adds at least another year to its lifespan.

Now, let’s shift to some Android market history.

  • Is Verizon still selling the original Droid? No.

  • Is there talk of continued support from Motorola for the device? No, not really…

Google and parts manufactures are churning out new versions of Android and mobile CPUs as fast as they can, so yesterday’s Android devices are getting left behind.

That doesn’t mean your old Android smartphones and tablets are useless. But as many hardcore Android users have found, getting the latest updates and stable versions of Android is a task that’s better left up to the 3rd party developers. I have a friend with an aging HTC Aria that has received zero updates from AT&T, and another who saw his HTC Incredible slowly but surely fade away without software updates until he purchased an HTC Thunderbolt.

The Big Difference

Why is there such a difference between long-term Apple iOS and Android device support?

I believe it’s because Apple has tight control over the OS and hardware, allowing Apple to envision a product lineup and see where older products fit into the future, and tweak software to play better with older devices. Even though Apple is notorious for leaving the past in the past, there’s still a threshold of longevity. When you buy an iPhone or iPad, you can rest assured that even if a newer device comes out, it’s more than likely your old device will support the new software, be it apps or operating systems.

There are no such guarantees in the Android world, since developers for Android need to calculate where best to put resources right here, right now. Often the latest whiz-bang apps that will wow customers will also only run on the latest mobile CPU. With a variety of SDK tools for developers to use, there’s also no guarantee that “Awesome New App” will run on your Galaxy Tab in 2012, or even be built with it in mind.

Meanwhile, take a look at the impressive 3D graphics coming from Epic’s Infinity Blade, which still runs on the 3GS. That’s not to say developers won’t built regular apps that run on all Android devices, but as the OS and hardware grows, fragments and accelerates, it’s going to be harder for Android devs to keep up with cross-platform Android support, since there’s no general standardization for hardware.

Thus: Android devices are disposable in the sense that a purchase is not exactly a long-term investment. This may seem like a simplistic argument, so I welcome dissent and discussion in the comments below. But if you’re off to buy a tablet, think about what you want that tablet to do and how well it will perform that function in the future. Will you go Android or iOS?

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