Now that 2-year contracts are up, some users are dumping Android

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The calls started in December when, one by one, I would get calls and emails from 20 and 30-somethings complaining about their Android phones. This was at a time when I'd been writing about Android a fair amount and had reviewed a few enterprise-class Android devices. One young government worker told me that he was tired of fighting with Android on his Samsung Galaxy, and he was getting a BlackBerry Bold. Several others were getting iPhones.

At first it was a trickle, but lately I've been hearing a steady stream of complaints in daily conversation, especially when the word would get out that I was reviewing one or another new Android device. Now that I'm testing the new Samsung Galaxy Note from AT&T (NYSE: T), the discussion has started again. One colleague, who isn't by any stretch a 20-something, said that he'd bought a pair of Motorola Droids in a BOGO (buy one get one) deal, and he's already dumped them now that his two-year contract is up. He said that the quality just wasn't there.

The reasons that I hear aren't all about the build quality of the devices, although that's a frequent complaint. The word "junk" comes into the conversation frequently. But the other word that crops up is "buggy." The people I hear from are tired of Android glitches, but they're more tired of updates that break things that used to work and they're also tired of updates that never happen at all.

Now I realize that this is anything but a scientific survey. But I'm hearing more and more about Android problems, so I have to wonder whether Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is really minding the store. One thing you have to keep in mind is that Google is a big company, and while Android brings it a lot of visibility, the company has a lot going on. Perhaps Android is starting to show signs of suffering from benign neglect?

Some of the complaints that I hear from people who have their two-year contracts expiring are beyond Google's control and aren't really related to Android. If a phone isn't well-made so that it will survive two years of normal wear and tear, there's not a lot Google can do about that. Likewise, if a manufacturer or carrier decides not to provide updates for its phones, then users don't get updates, despite what Google might offer.

I'm sure part of the problem is that in the rush to satisfy the exploding Android demand, phone makers rushed devices to market with less than total attention to quality. Right now, for example, I have five Android phones in the FMIT Labs that I use for testing. Four of them are going back to their makers because they have developed glitches or hardware problems that aren't fixable. Only one, A Verizon (NYSE: VZ) Wireless LTE phone, works properly.

Meanwhile, my neighbor's Nexus has, to use a technical term, bit the dust. He can't get tech support, much less a replacement. One of my children is on her third HTC Android phone because the first two simply stopped working. Now, I know that I hear about a lot more Android's problems because I write about it, and because I've become the neighborhood and family tech support guy. But still I have to wonder. Is lack of quality slowly draining customer faith in Android?

I realize that Android phones are still selling like hot cakes, and that Android has the largest share of users. But the lack of quality, either because the software starts becoming known as being buggy or because hardware vendors aren't putting the effort into build quality, has a corrosive effect. Not every user plans to swap phones at every upgrade opportunity. Some people, perhaps most, keep phones for several years.

Will people keep buying phones if they don't have the faith that the device will keep working? I suspect the answer is that they won't. The real solution is for Google to provide some leadership in seeing that Android updates are bug-free and Google Play offerings are bug- and malware-free, and in encouraging hardware vendors to focus on build quality. And of course, Google has to insist that updates to Android are made available to every device that runs it. - Wayne

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