SciTechTalk: HTC pins hopes on a 'true' Android experience

By JIM ALGAR, United Press International  |  June 2, 2013 at 6:31 AM
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Struggling Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC has announced a version of its flagship HTC One handset running stock Android 4.2.2 will be available June 26, making it the latest phone maker to hope a phone running the "true church" version of Android -- untouched by any manufacturers' or carrier's add-on bells and whistles -- will attract some buyers.

The "pure Android" HTC One will be offered in the Google Play Store for $599 on the same day as its $649 counterpart, the Samsung Galaxy S4 also running stock Jelly Bean Android.

Both phonemakers are hoping offering a so-called "Nexus experience" -- a reference to Google's own long-running line of Nexus phones featuring pure, unmodified versions of its Android operating system -- may prove attractive enough for consumers to pony up the full price of a phone rather than a carrier-subsidized version.

What's the attraction of "factory-stock" Android over the often heavily modified versions of the OS offered by smartphone manufacturers through wireless carriers?

There are two main criticisms: The first revolves around added features and interface modifications that phonemakers add to Android to differentiate their offerings from those of the competition, which many users consider "bloatware" that slows down the user experience.

That leads to the second criticism: the long waiting time for updates to arrive on phones with manufacturer-modified versions of Android.

Every update of Android by Google puts smartphone makers back to square one, requiring them to start from scratch to incorporate all their chosen bell and whistles, with the result upgrades often take months, or is some cases more than a year, to reach their customers' devices.

This is one reason Android phones are always seen as having to play "catch-up" to Apple's iPhone and its iOS operating system.

Apple controls its own OS ecosystem because it controls the iPhone. There are no other manufacturers making iOS phones, so there are no "non-factory" versions of iOS.

Thus when Apple releases a new version, every owner of an iPhone can be running that version within days.

Android phone users can only watch in frustration when Google releases the latest, greatest version of the OS, knowing it will likely be months before their smartphone maker and chosen carrier manage to modify it to their satisfaction and begin pushing it out to customers' devices.

Owners of "pure Android" devices, whether made by Google, Samsung or, now, HTC, face no such frustration; an upgraded version of the OS can be on their phones the moment Google pushes it out into the smartphone universe.

Buying an HTC One from the Google Play store rather than through a wireless provider will mean a user will receive Android updates directly from Google, possibly months ahead of other HTC One owners.

Of course, neither Samsung nor HTC will be putting all their eggs in a "Nexus experience" basket; both will continue to sell their devices through wireless carriers with proprietary versions of Android: Sense in the case of HTC and TouchWiz for Samsung.

In fact, HTC reportedly will earmark just 1 percent of its current HTC One production for pure Android, testing the waters before taking a bigger plunge.

Will "pure" Android devices sell for HTC and Samsung? Their prices will be a hurdle, putting both well above Google's own Nexus 4 phone, which starts at $299. So can the attraction of the "true church" experience be enough?

Only time -- and consumers -- can tell, of course.

Topics: Google
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