Some months ago I wrote (in Flattening the Smartphone Market) about the real significance of the Android 2.2 announcement. That was the moment that Google made clear that it intended to take control of the smartphone feature list from the cell carriers. Subsequently, carrier-loaded crapware and suppression of features like hotspot and tethering have been in decline under market pressure. The release of the T-Mobile G-2 and the Samsung Galaxy S (marketed as “the pure Google experience”) have been indicators of this trend.
I should have added that 2.2 takes control of the smartphone feature list away from handset vendors as well. A leak by someone claiming to be a T-mobile employee in the know alleged that Samsung has been dragging its feet on 2.2 upgrades for the Samsung Vibrant, hoping customers will upgrade to the Vibrant 4G in order to get the 2.2 that ships with it. Now comes word that Samsung has folded under pressure from the maneuver and announced an OTA update schedule for 2.2 on the Vibrant.
Other handset makers will take the same lesson the carriers are a few quarters further along in learning – footdragging on Android upgrades is one of those sleazy customer-control tactics that only works as long as the Argus-eyes of the Internet haven’t spotted it, at which point it becomes marketing suicide. Samsung just barely dodged the bullet this time by reversing itself and announcing an upgrade schedule quickly, but exactly nobody will believe the spin that the delay was due to technical problems. Samsung’s planners can bet Android fans will be watching the company’s upgrade timeliness like hawks in the future and they will not be kind about undue delays. In an intensely competitive handset market, Samsung cannot afford to take that hit to its brand image.
What we’ve just seen is another ratchet-step in the commoditization of the smartphone market.