Let’s not beat around the bush: The G1 was not a very good phone. That’s not to say Android isn’t a good mobile OS — it is, it’s just that the initial hardware built to run the OS didn’t do it justice. It was poorly designed and had a fairly cheap feel. And now, it appears that the G1 may already be on its last legs as Android engineers aren’t sure if the phone will be able to handle the upcoming updates to the Android OS.
While nothing is set in stone yet, it’s looking pretty grim. The latest “Cupcake” Android update apparently pushed the G1’s memory to the limit. And subsequent updates should only require more. But what’s crazy about this is that the G1 was launched just 10 months ago. Certainly, the devices will keep working with the current flavor of Android, but just imagine the pain early adopters must feel if their device is already a dinosaur that they can’t upgrade, not yet a year into its release.
I’ve used the G1 pretty extensively, having obtained a demo unit from Google shortly after its launch. From just about day 1, I didn’t like it. The obvious comparison was to the iPhone, but it was a hard one to make since the devices were so different. The G1 had a physical keyboard, no multi-touch support, and could run applications in the background to name a few things. The better comparison is to the so-called “G2” also known as the “Google Ion” or the myTouch 3G. That device, also built by HTC, is similar to the G1 but improves on it in just about every way. It’s faster, thinner (thanks to the removal of the awful keyboard), has better battery life, and just feels nicer.
The myTouch is actually the device Mike switched to after rejecting the iPhone, and as I hear from him every time I see him, he loves it. I don’t hear anyone say that about the G1. Sure, there are plenty of people who use it, and some like it, but I think all would concede that there are better phones out there. And if they won’t yet, when a new Android update comes out that the G1 can’t handle, I’m sure they will.
So big deal, a phone that a few hundred thousand people use is passing away before its time, right? Well the issue behind it is a potentially much larger one. The G1 going out of date speaks to a problem the Android platform has: Its open nature and the desire to support as many phones as possible is always going to leave some devices out in the cold.
Of course, that is hardly an Android-only problem, it’s a problem with just about every platform besides the iPhone. While the original iPhone has been out for over 2 years now, it was still able to be upgraded to the latest iPhone firmware, 3.0, this year. Granted, some of the features were disabled because the hardware has evolved, but it can still do the majority of things that the other iPhones can do.
With so many different devices, and many more said to be coming by the end of this year, the Android platform will continue to get fragmented in a way that is likely to be confusing to consumers. And that doesn’t even speak to the fragmentation of developers developing for phone-specific features of Android devices when more come out.
Of course, there are upsides to this openness, and we should see plenty of applications and features that aren’t available on the relatively-closed iPhone. But it’s a tricky trade-off if consumers are buying a device that they’re not sure will work with all the applications on the platform, and worse, the newest versions of the OS itself.
Really, I just wanted to write a eulogy for the G1. I’m looking forward to some good Android phones in the future, the G1 was not one of them.
[photo: flickr/rainer ebert]