Android super smartphones: Too much of a good thing?

The window between launches of "flagship" Android smartphones is shrinking, and that may not be a good thing for consumers.

The Galaxy Nexus is just the latest in a growing line of "flagship" phones.

commentary If I'm a Droid Bionic owner, I have to be pretty peeved.

The Bionic was supposed to be positioned as Verizon Wireless' flagship 4G LTE smartphone--the first with a dual-core processor--when it launched in early September. But its reign barely lasted a month, and following several recent announcements, it may not even rank as the third-best Android phone in Verizon's lineup by November.

The speed in which new Android devices are hitting the market speaks to the strength of Google's mobile platform. But it also leads to a lot of headaches for consumers who can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options emerging every day. It's like the Best Buy commercial parodying the next great device coming out moments after you buy it, only it's playing out in real life.

Handset manufacturers can't like the pace either. They spend millions of dollar of research and development on the hot new device, only to lose the spotlight after a few days (or, in the case of the Droid Razr, a few hours).

The Motorola Droid Razr was in the spotlight for a few hours.
It was a short reign for the Droid Bionic. Motorola

"This sort of churn bothers both consumers and OEMs, for whom such a cycle is costly and, arguably, wasteful," said Roger Kay, an analyst for Endpoint Technologies.

For simplicity's sake, let's just look at Verizon's lineup for the holidays. In the past, the carrier has focused its marketing efforts on one big phone, known in the industry as a halo device, since the buzz around it often draws in consumers and drives the sales of other phones.

Past results have been mixed. The first Droid by Motorola was a smash hit, and helped propel Android into the mainstream. Prior to that was the BlackBerry Storm, which sold well but was plagued with glitches and a clunky user interface. Back then, customers knew exactly what was the phone to get.

That strategy has now been thrown out the window, as Verizon has at least four to five high-profile smartphones to offer for the holidays, one seemingly looking to top the preceding one.

Yesterday, Verizon and Motorola jointly unveiled the Droid Razr , a dual-core 4G LTE smartphone that boasts a thinner profile than the iPhone 4S. It represents a massive upgrade over the Droid Bionic, which just hit the market a month ago.

Granted, the Bionic suffered a well-documented series of delays, and should have technically hit the market in the second quarter. But the extra time to redesign the phone and bring it to market seems wasted with the introduction of the Razr. Why would anyone buy the Bionic now?

Several hours after the Razr unveiling, Google and Samsung showed off the Galaxy Nexus , the first smartphone running on Ice Cream Sandwich, which is the latest version of Android. The upgraded operating system is the first to integrate both smartphone and tablet user interfaces, and comes with a raft of new features. The Galaxy Nexus will run on LTE and is expected to also come to Verizon.

The Galaxy Nexus comes on the heels of the Stratosphere , which just launched last week as part of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S II line of Android mobile devices. Samsung clearly took pains to customize the Verizon version of its popular Galaxy S II phone, adding a keyboard and LTE compatibility, yet it is already selling at a discount at various retailers.

Does anybody remember the Stratosphere? A few days ago the Galaxy S II phones were among hottest out there. Today, not so much.

For Verizon, having such a robust lineup--which includes the recently launched iPhone 4S--is a boon, and a stark contrast from the older basic cell phone days, when the hottest devices only ran on the GSM network used by AT&T and T-Mobile USA. Gadget bloggers, and tech journalists such as myself, love the torrent of new devices because it means more to write about.

But the rate at which these new super smartphones are emerging is dizzying. That run of phones doesn't even include the wave of devices hitting the market with the other major carriers. People often hold off purchasing new phones so they can see what's coming ahead; with such a steady flow of new products, they may end up paralyzed with indecision.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the Android world, customers, and handset manufacturers included, could stand to see fewer launches of the next big thing.

 

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