Android is a wonderfully imperfect operating system. Once known as the anti-iOS, solely for the use of power users and nerds. Times have changed in a big way. Android has changed drastically since then. The problem with Android lies within Google itself, as well as some of the vocal user base that can scare new users. Google has long struggled for control over Android, but are fighting an uphill battle against carriers and OEMs. Google is also attempting to turn Android into a consistent, accessible experience for everyone; a more common consumer based Android. Finally, Android is a wonderful operating system. But the underlying problem is some of the user base and “solutions” that ultimately cause more problems.
Now, before you get up in arms and start threatening me on the internet(you big bad person, you). Let me preface this by stating a few facts about me.
I have used Android consistently since 2010. I have converted many, many people to Android and have been their crutch when problems arise. I write about Android, it is what I am probably the most known for. This is an article that offers a dose of perspective from someone who constantly deals with the common consumer. The grandparents, the parents, the students, and the iPhone converts. I am the resident Android guru tasked with handling every bug and issue. I do not hate Android, I do not hate the fan base, I do not hate rooting. I simply take issue with Google’s former lackadaisical attitude and some solutions given that cause more problems.
End disclaimer, let’s begin.
Google is one part of this problem. Android is designed to be an open operating system,which is a great thing. This allows for Android to be everywhere in various shapes and sizes. But this also allows for companies like Samsung, Motorola, and LG to dictate way too much of Android. While Google is slowly attempting to regain control over Android, the problem still very much persists. Updates are constantly delayed or missing in action due to device makers and carriers. Google has been slowly tightening the grip on Android to better control the ecosystem that has become so valuable. But the gears are grinding slowly in turning the tide of Android. As a user, it is frustrating to have drastically different experiences device to device.
It is also unsettling to know that the device you purchase may not be updated or supported consistently by any means. It makes competition like iOS much more lucrative due to the promise of consistency and support. Google is working on creating a more consistent experience by putting more parameters in place in order to have access to Google’s services. But when it comes to support for issues that might arise on your device with no official fix in sight, you are left to fend for yourself. Which introduces you to the next problem, the incredibly vocal, mainly well meaning, and sometimes condescending community of Android power users.
The Android community, let me first tell you that I love you. I have been helped by eighty-five percent of you in wonderful ways. If it were not for comprehensive guides, walkthroughs and countless accounts of Good Samaritan dedication on your part, I would not be where I am today with Android.
The Android community is one of the greatest strengths of the Android ecosystem. It is also the greatest weakness. For within our ranks there are people who believe that rooting should be the first line of defense for every user. When that is simply not the case. Rooting is not the answer for everyone, plain and simple. Rooting can become immensely complicated and can void your warranty. If you void your warranty by rooting your device and something goes wrong, you are completely out of luck. Now, a counter-argument to that would be, “just go Nexus. Rooting is easy on a Nexus!”.
Google is working on getting people to go Nexus. This is ones of the reasons the Nexus 6 is offered through carrier subsidy. I mentioned above that they are working on regaining control of Android, but it is moving slow. But just because someone owns a Nexus device does not mean they can or want to root.
The entire process of rooting a device is complicated to those uninitiated with the vernacular. Take this encounter here with Troy White, a friend who helps maintain the custom ROM “omniROM”.
The method he just described is one of the easiest manual methods to gain root access to your Android device. But to those that are not well versed in the lingo of Android development, that has to be daunting. It was for me when I first rooted my devices.
The final part of the problem with the current identity crisis taking place with Android. Take the common consumer. They walk into their local carrier store(they do not read what I am writing) and start perusing phone selections. An entire store filled with phones, most unfamiliar. You have your glowing white lights that lead the customer to the walled garden of Eden. Take a bite of Tim Cook’s Apple, and you are stuck for life. If this consumer wants something other than an iOS device, the clear choice is Android(Sorry Windows Phone, Sorry Blackberry). But, to them, they do not see Android devices. They see Samsung, HTC, LG, and Motorola devices. They see those devices for their gimmicky or interesting features. Laser Auto-focus? Sign me up. I can control the phone with my hands, but WITHOUT touching it? I’ll take fifteen, please. The normal consumer could not care less about the underlying power of Android. They want their phone to text, Facebook, Instagram, and take selfies without issue. That’s it.
Consumers have never cared about what operating system a phone runs, they care more about brand recognition and word of mouth. Ask an iOS user why they choose an iPhone. Seven out of ten will say because it’s the best, but not much else. Tons of Samsung owners chose Samsung because it looked kind of like iOS, but was different. It had a bigger screen than iPhone at the time, too. They switched because someone sometime told them Apple wasn’t the same without Steve Jobs. Blah, blah, blah. Go ask everyone with an Android phone that you see today about what version they are running. Get ready for some blank stares. Most Android users have no idea that Lollipop is more than a sucker.
Even Pebble, a company of nerds that make wrist worn computers are aware of the lack of Android brand recognition by the common consumer. They took the time to state Samsung AND Android, even though Samsung devices run Android(Don’t give me the whole Tizen thing. Tizen isn’t a thing, and it will never be a thing).
Now, you have this idea of the normal consumer in your head. Imagine explaining to them the rooting process, and what it can do for their device. But, you can under-volt your processor for longer battery! You can get this feature through Xposed! You can create a new boot animation! You can get CM12 nightly 2/14/15 that only has forty bugs! They’re going to look at you and say, “Huh?”
Let me make this abundantly clear. Rooting is not for everyone. Just because you prefer to root, does not mean that everyone can or should. Some people simply do not care about the underlying power of Android. I love Android, yet I do not care about under-volting my CPU, overclocking my mobile GPU, and running bleeding edge, unstable nightlies. I want my phone to work out of the box, period. If you root your Android device because that is what you prefer, that is perfectly fine. If you use Android without rooting that is perfectly fine. Android users do not prefer iOS, hence why we are on Android. But Android users should not be expected to root solely because we run Android. There is more to Android than the power behind it.
Now, I’m going to counter my argument here for a second. I do truly believe rooting devices can add benefit to the user experience, in certain situations. I have rooted devices in the past, but I prefer not to today. I am completely comfortable rooting my devices and going through the process. Rooting can definitely help elongate battery life and stabilize performance. There are definitely advantages to rooting a device. But the process to root the device simply isn’t for everyone, and that is perfectly fine. The bigger problem with this lies with device makers not supporting their products adequately.
If an Android user wants to dive into rooting a device, that is phenomenal. But to simply tell someone, “Just root it” without giving them any type of guidance or help is just shy of foolish. There are many, many users that might want to take the plunge into more control. But that does not mean they want to go through the sometimes complicated process of rooting their device. If you don’t own a Nexus device, the process is far from simple and straightforward.
Remember, rooting is not for everyone, and there is no need to discriminate against them because of this. This elitist nature that is present in sects of the Android community is toxic and is hurting users. Apple users have nice, shiny Apple stores to walk into for council and support. Android users are left in a warzone of conflicting opinions and solutions. It can be incredibly overwhelming at first glance. But the community is really all we have. The Android community is left to pick up the pieces Google, manufacturers, and carriers will not.
The problem is so multifaceted it makes my head spin. Manufacturers and carriers maintain a control over Android that simply should not exist. The problems that may arise can be fixed by rooting, yes. But that in no way means that those problems should be fixed by rooting. Not everyone cares enough to delve into their device at that level. With Android shifting to a more widespread, user friendly approach; that has to be taken into consideration. The common consumer does not need to root their device, given the potential complications and often confusing process.
Android is still fantastic. In my opinion, it is the best mobile operating system on the market. It is gorgeous, functional, and powerful. But not everyone wants the power of Android. They simply want to get on Facebook and text their friends. Android has changed, adapted and grown over the years. The problem with Android is that it holds such a massive market. Kids, grandparents, technophiles, technologically unaware, and people who simply do not care. That is such a broad range of users. The best experience for each and every one of them is so vastly different, there is no right answer on how to attain that best experience. We need to respect those users, because they still use Android, just not the same way as some of us. Be together, not the same. That is Android’s new slogan, it is important we all remember that.