Beauty of Choice: The Mobile Realm (Pt. 1)

I’d love to say I’ve found one ROM that meets all my (sometimes ridiculous) needs, is super fast and stable, and supports all my apps, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I’m addicted to the idea of managing my blog from my phone so I’m hesitant to go to Gingerbread again, but I’m getting kind of annoyed with some of the things on Liberty 2.0. Yes, the pros still outweigh the cons. The main pro for staying with Liberty at least another week being the massive amounts of customizations. My Oreo Slice + 4G + Slight Honeycomb hacked together theme looks just fantastic to me. Custom transition animations and custom pulldown back ground help me make my phone truly mine. More on this subject and others after the break!

That’s what I love about Android in general. Sure, we all have Android phones but everything changes so much from manufacturer to manufacturer and from ROM to ROM that there really is no true (Nexus aside) “Android” phone. That’s also a main reason I don’t want an iOS device. I’d feel like I’m joining some kind of creepy drone cult all dancing in time to Steve Jobs’s tune. Every iOS device looks, behaves, and functions almost EXACTLY the same. While that creates a Utopian “pick up and play” world, not everyone rolls that way. Some people want to choose exactly how they roll. Android lets them do that. iOS lets you be like everyone else. Perhaps cool (in their own eyes) and most definitely stable and speedy, but at what cost? You have to jailbreak your device just to do half the built in customizations that any and every Android device comes with. Not to mention all the functionality enhancing apps. iOS apps may to quite a lot (a good deal more than Android’s) due to the (extremely) limited hardware selection and consistently powerful devices but all Android’s are open to be changed in practically anyway you can imagine.

And that’s all within the realm of running stock software. Once rooted, your options triple for speed, stability, or being on the bleeding edge. That’s the fundamental difference between Android and iOS and also my source of identity crisis within the Android platform. The massive amount of changes you can make on Android versus changing your wallpaper on iOS make Android feel like the future and iOS feel like a dumbphone OS. On the flipside, due to the large spread of Android devices’ varying levels of power apps designed to run just on iOS devices are incredible. The experience is seamless, something Android has yet to touch on. Every app on iOS feels like it was made for iOS and a high class device. Half of the Android equivalents of these apps seem like little more than a last minute college programming assignment (some high school level, literally). And this stretches throughout the stock Android experience. the entire experience, even on pure Nexus Android devices can’t hold a candle to iOS. But that’s the choice you make.

Android is “fragmented” like this because you can swap out as many or as little parts as you’d like. HTC, Samsung, and Motorola have attempted to unify the experience somewhat, at the expense of speedy updates. Of the three mentioned, I’m pretty sure HTC is the only one people would have trouble letting go of. In fact, it’s been hacked onto other devices not shipping with it, that’s how good it is. The problem then becomes an inconsistent “Android” experience. If your device is locked down, like my Droid 2, you’re not just buying an Android phone. You’re buying a Motorola phone that has an Android base. You can swap some parts out, but it’s not the same as a totally open platform. To compare Android v. iOS to cars is a great illustration. Let’s say iPhone is like a Lamborghini. Fast, beautiful, and consistent. When you buy a Lambo, you’re not gonna swap in a new powertrain or reroute the exhaust to the sides. Heck, at the most you might change the color and put new tires on it. Lamborghini’s are what they are, they’re not supposed to be changed. They provide the ultimate in speed and stability and will do pretty much anything you ask of them. It’s designed to be the best, what would you change? There’s nothing to improve, who are you to question Lamborghini on how to make a car? That’s how it is when you buy an Apple device. Apple knows best and there’s no reason for you to change any of the basics of the interface. Why would you? Apple and Lamborghini have been established as some of the best in their respective industries. Who are you to question the mighty Steve Jobs? Its a smug, egotistic system, but as a peon you get to enjoy a fantastically smooth and incredibly immersive and simple device. You are powerful, but limited to what Steve/Lamborghini says.

And how does Android fit into this analogy? Android would be a Scion TC. Cheap on the low end, but have you seen this TC? The difference is, this car can be anything from a daily commuter to a ridiculously over powered drag racer. It can be whatever you want it to be. Scion’s website invites you to change it from their own factory! Apple gives you black or white. Android gives you spoilers, body kits, wicked vinyl sets, custom rims, and all the factory and after market performance enhancements you can ask for, and perhaps more than you did! That’s part of the trade off. When you get a Scion you can’t be entirely sure what your experience will be. Just like with any car, once you start swapping in your own parts and mixing and matching the seamlessness and perfection that is Lamborghini/Apple starts looking pretty good. You can get a high performance Scion/Android, but there’s also the option to get a majority of the experience and apps with a much lower entry price. Scion TC’s sell for like $20,000. I don’t even have the heart to post the cost of a new Lamborghini. With your Scion/Android you’re also on your own more for fixing things, you can take it to anyone’s basement and have them take a look. Apple/Lambo means you’re only going to a licensed repair shop. Another side to the coin is the community backed by these different operating systems/car manufacturers. With Android you can hop any forum post a question and someone helpful will give you back an answer either helping you out or guiding you. You can find any new mod or part you want an install it yourself. Most Lambos aren’t exactly “user servicable”. Most Apple/Lamborghini forums and communities are mostly the narcissistic, back patting groups of hipsters congratulating each other on own Apple/Lambos. Sure there’s some posts (Geohot) about changing and messing with your iPhone, but it’s not the same as an Android site. The scene behind the Scion TC/Android is exciting and upbeat, something is always happening because there’s so many more companies and options. There are entire websites dedicated to rumors of new Apple products because they, like Lamborghini, tend to take their sweet time making products. Releasing one new product a year in the incredibly volatile environment that the mobile technology realm has become would be unthinkable by any company other than Apple. They can afford to do that because they know the hordes of Apple fans will storm the gates to get the latest greatest, slightly upgraded Apple iThing. That’s their default choice. iPhone, iPod, iPad. With Android you can get such a huge variety of devices with such a huge range of power, price, and portability I can’t even list it here. There’s almost too much to choose from!

Which leads me back to my main point, choice. I’m having a hard time figuring out what I want my single Android device to be! There are so many options out there just for my Droid 2 and so many different ways I can change each ROM, each theme, each new launcher its incredible. Yes, it creates a fragmented ecosystem where developers have to take into account 3 different versions of Android at a time and all the different manufacturers skins, but that’s the price for customization. I love the fact that I can spend hours messing with my phone, but not everyone will. I’m not sure how many mom’s are comfortable with the idea of voiding their warranty in the name of a custom theme. Not to mention the myriad of iPhone users who jailbreak, doing the same thing. The point is choice. The option to change our devices how we want. Regardless of what the manufacturer or carrier or government or anyone else says. I paid for my device and I’ll be damned if anyone tells me exactly how to use it or what I can do to it. There should be no limit imposed on the American people as to what software, at any hardware level, can run. If I want to run a custom kernel that could brick my device, dammit Verizon I should be able to do it. To hell with your “consistent customer experience” bull crap. I know exactly what I’m getting into. 90% of your customers aren’t going to “accidentally” root their devices and do something your customer service can’t fix. And manufacturers shouldn’t be bowing to their wishes. They make the hardware, they should make the decisions about whether to lock the bootloader or kernel. In a perfect world, when you get your phone from Verizon or any other carrier, you’re not locked to them or any carrier. You can switch at will via a unified card on the same frequencies and the same coverage and speed. It would be like using cable to access any different ISP and switch at will. And instead of buying one phone/device with one software on it, it’d be like at home where I can hook up any device I own running any software I want with no limits on my network usage. As a compromise even, the least manufacturers could do would be this: offer the CHOICE to take their skinned UI and accept slow updates, OR give them the OPTION to run pure, straight AOSP Android. Unlocked bootloader, kernel, everything. I’d like to see the PC/home ISP setup, but in the mobile sphere. I can run Windows, OSX, or Linux on any hardware I want and use any ISP I want with no penalties or provisions. That’s my unrealistic and completely idealistic view of how TRUE choice should be implemented in the mobile realm. Is it possible? Only if these companies and carriers accept they might lose a little profit now in exchange for a beautiful open world down the road. They don’t want this kind of choice because they lose money. This isn’t right, and as much as I hate to lean on the government, the FCC is the only people with the power to stop this. They should have the power, but carriers are trying to take it away. It’s ridiculous that it’s gotten this bad. We need the government to step up for the individual person, give us back the right to choose our software, our devices, our carriers. We shouldn’t be herded into getting one company, one provider. True, equal competition will drive down prices and create a new mobile revolution. People just need to care about their right to choose. Wake up America, we’re being screwed! The Japanese and Europeans have had cheaper, faster, and more ubiquitous mobile connections for years. Korean children video chat with their parents on their way home from school. Visionaries like Helio and Virgin Mobile are trying to make a change, but they’re getting crushed by all the subsidies the already too big carriers get. We’re just getting to a critical point. There’s people out there like me that are truly afraid of where America and our freedom of choice will be just 3-5 years out. It’s a scary world to me where I have 3 companies, 3 phones, and no software choices just because someone above me decided they were the best. That is up to me to decide, thank you very little. I’m more than capable of making my own choices, and that’s how it should be. The consumers at the bottom should be making the choices, choice of carrier, device, and plan. As consumers we need lawmakers to step up for us and our right to choose. Fight the power! Let’s fight for our right to choose! This is our world, and we need to make it a world where we’re safe to choose whatever mobile OS we want to use on whatever device we want on whatever carrier we want. We can do this, but it’s going to be an uphill battle. Our choice should be the final say, not whatever They say. Thanks for reading, I appreciate your choice. 😛

You stay classy, World Wide Web.

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