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You're doing it wrong: What Android OEMs could be doing better

For this week's Friday Debate we discuss what Android OEMs could be doing better, both as a whole and individually.
October 24, 2014
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Android is clearly the most popular mobile operating system across the globe but this success isn’t Google’s alone. There are tons of Android OEMs out there producing solid devices and each of these manufacturers have their own benefits and disadvantages.

For this week’s Friday Debate we take a closer look at these OEMs, either individually or as a whole, and discuss what they could be doing better. For example, could OEMs benefit from more aggressive pricing, more custom software features, new sensors, battery life enhancements? The list goes on.

As always, check out what some of our team members have to say and let us know what you think in the comments!

Robert Triggs

Value is the one big lesson that the larger Android OEMs are going to have to learn and fast. Huawei, OnePlus, and Xiaomi are surging in market share by providing consumers with the hardware they need at a price that’s hard to beat.

Even though there is clearly demand for premium features – fingerprint scanners, higher resolution cameras and displays, or IP certifications – these can’t really justify an additional $200 – $300 dollars or more. The issue is that the basics of high-end hardware – SoC, RAM, memory, camera, etc – have been pretty consistent across handsets for a year or so, but rather than drop the prices some OEMs have turned to these less important features to maintain the high price tags.

LG is one of the few home-brand OEMs to have struck a better balance. Its handsets offer some extra features over the basic flagship hardware packages, like the OnePlus One, but it prices its phones more competitively than HTC, Samsung and Sony.

I firmly believe that the HTC One series would sell a lot better if it was slightly cheaper, and I’d be much more willing to recommend it. Sony is just being greedy by keeping the price of its Xperia Z line steady despite offering minor improvements with each generation. Electronics usually become cheaper overtime, but the big OEM’s don’t seem to be following this trend.

Tablets are the other problem for me. Not hardware, that’s perfectly fine, but the software experience still isn’t there yet. Watching videos and browsing the web is fine, but I wouldn’t pick an Android tablet to do work on. Multitasking is still a problem and apps, even the few that are tablet optimized, are still not as functional as I’d like. Chromebook’s aren’t really an alternative because of a lack of software.

Microsoft is actual the company I look up to here. Windows 8 might not be perfect, but it plays nicely with a load of extra software and hardware configurations that Android can’t touch. Those Asus Transformer Books are brilliant. Android’s external keyboard and printer support is coming along, but more needs to be done.

Gary Sims

Unlike iOS and to some extent Windows Phone, the fate of Android doesn’t rest solely in the hands of its creator. The handset makers (the OEMs) play a huge part in making Android successful.

If you follow the financial stories of companies like Samsung, LG, Sony and HTC, you will see that being an Android OEM isn’t always easy. HTC went through a tough patch (and aren’t out of the woods yet). Sony isn’t doing so well. Samsung’s profits are falling, and so on.

The problem is that the competition is fierce and the OEMs need to stay on top of their game, all of the time, which isn’t easy.

Looking at Samsung, its biggest problem is that it has too many models. Like way too many models. when you consider the R&D costs, the manufacturing costs, distribution and so on, maintain such an extensive model line is expensive. Samsung, please, if just for my sanity, reduce the number of models you make.

Some people complain about TouchWiz and I guess I can understand why, but each OEM needs a differentiator. For some it is price, for others it is the software. Samsung should stick with TouchWiz, it seems to be doing more good than harm in terms of handset sales.

The only other big handset maker which I care about is HTC. My first “proper” Android phone was from HTC and I liked it, I liked it a lot. In fact HTC almost won the brand loyalty game with me and if it wasn’t for the Nexus range I would still be a HTC owner. Personally I would love to see HTC go into competition with the Chinese OEMs. Sell directly, offer unlocked phones for the masses, allow us to cut the cord from our carriers. Sure it can still sell via the carriers, but if there is one company that could compete with Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo, and OnePlus One, it is HTC.

Having said all that, one thing is for sure, things aren’t going to get any easier for the big OEMs, the competition is getting stronger and consumers are getting wiser.

Andrew Grush

Both Gary and Robert make some excellent points. I agree that pricing is a factor that bigger OEMs like Samsung, Sony, HTC and (to lesser extent) LG need to be more aggressive on. I also agree that HTC has the potential to compete more directly with the growing Chinese giants if they changed up their retail model a bit (online sales, etc).

Furthermore I feel that tablets are an area that Android does well but could use a bit more refinement. I will even admit that in some ways Windows (backwards compatibility for business and even iOS (slightly better tablet app optimization) are a bit more established here.

Personally, I feel that all the OEMs have strong advantages and disadvantages but I’d say the one thing I’d like to see more of is “freedom”, one of the core reasons I chose Android over alternatives in the first place. What I mean by this is that OEMs should give consumers more choice over what software features and apps they get. I’m not suggesting that OEMs throw out custom skins (that would be subtracting from freedom in a way), but instead that they make skins and custom apps optional and uninstallable without root or other hackery needed. Of course, Google itself is just as guilty here — as there are a number of Google apps and services that can only be disabled on most phones and not completely removed if we so desire.

Overall, I think that all the Android OEMs are doing a fairly solid job and Android is flourishing as a direct result. Sure, they could all use some improvements, but the same goes for an OS/ecosystem out there.