Dell Aero Highlights Android's Flaws

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Dell Aero Highlights Android's Flaws
Oooooh, there's a new Android on the market, this time from Dell. I'm so excited I could, well, fall asleep. And that's not because the Aero barks like a dog -- which it does, according to our colleagues at PC World -- but because it's yet another Android, the increasingly ragged platform that is nonetheless garnering big sales as users become increasingly fed up with AT&T.

Too Many Android Versions and Forks
Here's a key to understanding what's wrong with the Dell Aero and with the platform: The Aero runs on Android 1.5, an operating system that is 16 months old and four versions behind the current Android OS.

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The carriers and device makers are showing themselves to be real bozos by selling different devices with different Android versions and with manufacturer- and carrier-specific UIs. For example, Dell has said it so highly customized the Android UI that it's unclear when or if it can let users update to the current Android 2.2 version. That's the kind of forking lunacy that so often undermines open source efforts.

Would you plunk down your cash for an iPhone running iOS 3.0 or, for that matter, a PC running Windows 98? How about a Dell-only version of Windows specific to a certain PC model? Of course not. But the open Google mobile platform lets anyone ship a phone with whatever version of Android suits it.

The end result is that the typical user has no idea what he or she is actually buying. That's tough enough for the consumer, but it's even harder for IT departments that are considering whether to support Android smartphones when there's so much uncertainty over the configuration of different Android models, even those bought from the same carrier.

Carriers Still Rule, Poorly
The Aero has another lesson to teach: Despite Google's stated intention to build a platform that liberated handsets from the tyranny of carrier domination, it hasn't happened -- not even close.

Remember all the hype about the Nexus One? It was a real in-your-face to Apple and its bumbling carrier partner AT&T. Pay $500 to Google and you have an unlocked phone. No more bowing down to the carriers. Hurray!

That turned out to be nonsense, of course. As I pointed out soon after the launch, anyone who bought the device was, for all practical purposes, chained to T-Mobile. Maybe that fact contributed to the death of the Nexus One after just seven months, though its legacy lives on. The carriers still have a stranglehold on the Android platform, and there's no immediate prospect for change.

Indeed, Google is strengthening the hand of the carriers by dumping its support for Net neutrality and endorsing Verizon Wireless's position that wireless carriers should be free to do pretty much whatever they want. And as Dan Gillmor over at Salon points out, "The emboldened carriers have started loading all kinds of crapware -- apps from partner companies that can't be removed in standard configurations and that can slow down the devices."

Wow. Doesn't that remind us of a giant software company that often does evil? Much as the PC has been the prisoner of Microsoft, the smartphone is the prisoner of a handful of carriers.

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