Time to stop making so many Android Devices

Incremental upgrades are Apple's thing...c'mon guys!

There are a couple things that Apple does better than anyone else in the commercial market. One thing they do is keep it simple. Some would say they keep it too simple (myself included), but simple + marketing sells, people think they know what they are getting, and thus pay for it. Android manufacturers haven’t been able to make anything simple – and that hurts both their products and their bottom line.

Right now, Samsung has three different tablets that are around 7 inches…and just revealed a fourth – the Galaxy Tab 2. The original mass-marketed Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab was not well received. They then released the Galaxy Tab 7.7. A Galaxy Tab 7 Plus model was released. None of these devices sold very well, nor do they differ that much (slight slimmer, slightly faster, no true differentiating characteristics).
But Samsung is not alone in this, last year, Motorola released over 20 Android phones – none of which are huge improvements on any other device.
HTC too, has released 20 Android phones in 2011. BUT WHY?
I understand the need for customization to support different networks, but it is almost as if they are tacking on capabilities without rhyme or reason. Hardware platforms are chosen without a look to future development and support (would not developing for the same platform consistently speed development and upgrades?).

These are just a few of the HTC phones that run on Sprint's network - there are easily as many for every other carrier

I proffer that each manufacturer create 4 lines of smartphones (and maybe a fifth if you are feeling crazy)

  • Value: there will always be customers who don’t understand that purchasing the best possible phone with your two year contract is a good investment – if properly cared for, that phone may pay for the next device you purchase, and you will get the best experience over the life of your contract;
  • Small and Thin: some people will always want the thinnest and smallest device. These people will be immediately draw to the iPhone, but HTC/Motorola/Samsung CAN compete against iDevices – especially in this form factor;
  • Large and Thin/High-Powered: look at the rush for the Galaxy Nexus or the way the Samsung Galaxy SII (or HTC Evo 4G) first sold. People want the best, and they like big screens too! As well, some people have too big hands for iPhones and wear pants that have pockets big enough for 4/5″ screens;
  • QWERTY: I do not understand the need for a full keyboard, but there are those that insist on them. Some will always want a full keyboard in your pocket and there are enough of these people to create a real market;
  • Extreme/Rugged: Lots of people do not trust OtterBox cases. For these people, ruggedized phones are the option they choose. They are usually willing to concede some of the high quality components and options for the security of never(or rarely) breaking their phones.

No company needs more than this lineup of phones, and in the US a simple “G/C/L” (for GSM/CDMA/LTE) could enumerate the difference between the devices. Samsung has had great success with the Galaxy S II, which offers very similar silicon across a band of devices (they have different processors on networks due to the issues the Samsung Exynos processor has with CDMA or LTE radios). Manufacturing and designing bands of phones should have the following effects:

  • Easier to market devices
  • Easier to differentiate for consumers
  • Easier to develop software (and push out updates)
  • Easier to create 1st and 3rd party accessories

Part of the reason the iPhone is selling so well is that it is standardized. If you buy an iPhone, you know you will get updates and you know you can find an infinite number of accessories. But many people do not buy the iPhone because they don’t like it or Apple’s ecosytems. Android manufacturers need to get smart, and do it quickly, because they’ve got very little margin for error anymore.
The Android Tablet world is almost even worse – only Asus has offered any real upgrade to their Honeycomb offering (the Transformer Prime is smaller, lighter and packing the Tegra 3 chip in lieu of the Tegra 2 which powers almost every other 10″ tab). The iPad was the first polished tablet experience on the market, thus it has the most accessories. Only the Kindle Fire has come close to challenging the iPad, and that’s mostly on price.

If Android tablet and smartphone makers want to continue to compete, they have to take a page from Apple’s book and make consumer choice simple (and easy to accessorize).

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About Ryan Kamauff

Ryan Kamauff is a senior analyst with Crucial Point LLC. He produces technology focused content for CTOvision.com and reports on analytical megatrends at the new analysis focused Analyst One.