Android: The Wild West of the Smartphone Space?

There’s no denying Android’s momentum: Droid sales are strong, the Nexus One is drawing positive (if not fawning) reviews, and the operating system is quickly expanding beyond phones to tablets as Google works toward its vision of the Androidification of everything. But the land of Android isn’t always wine and roses for consumers, some of whom are sharing Google’s growing pains in mobile. And while such hiccups may have been predictable, they’ll need to be addressed as Android begins to get legs with mainstream users. In just the last few weeks:

  • Users of the new Samsung Galaxy have learned that they’re not in line for an upgrade to Android 2.0, which first came to market with the Droid a mere two months after the Galaxy became available. The revelation highlights the double-edged sword of open-source software, which is fertile ground for fragmented versions of the OS from different manufacturers and carriers. And as Sebastian pointed out last week, questions are beginning to emerge about just how open Google is with Android given that the Nexus One runs version 2.1 while the Droid still runs 2.0. Those scenarios can leave consumers in the dark regarding which version they’re using — and what kind of update they can expect.
  • Predictably, Google has experienced a rash of complaints from customers as it takes on the role of mobile retailer. Message-board comments were being posted almost by the minute by Friday afternoon, according to one report, as consumers tried to get information ranging from T-Mobile USA’s upgrade policies to technical help. Google, in turn, encouraged Nexus One users to call HTC or T-Mobile — a suggestion that may have irritated Google’s partners.
  • A rogue Android Market app was identified that tried to glean bank log-in details from users. The offering was disguised as a legitimate banking application but — in a twist on an old Internet ploy — was an effort to get people to divulge their log-in information. While such an app could make its way into Apple’s App Store — which is notoriously, if arbitrarily, policed — it underscores the downside of the less-regulated Android Market.

No player in the mobile space bats 1.000 when it comes to customer service, of course, and Google will surely experience many more headaches as it continues to expand beyond search and advertising into the world of mobile retailer and operating system developer. But wireless consumers now have several attractive options when it comes to smartphones and the software that runs on them. Early adopters may not mind helping Google iron out the wrinkles, but as Android goes mainstream the company will have to convince users it’s not the wild, wild West of the smartphone space.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lisa Brewster.

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