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Poor education to blame for Android returns, not poor apps

There's a much simpler reason than poorly written apps and games as to why people return their Android phones.

Death by 1,000 paper cuts could be the reason for many Android returns.

As CNET's Nicole Lee reported this morning, Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha this week said that 70 percent of customers returning Moto smartphones are doing so because of poorly written apps that strain the CPU or battery. That's reasonable, but I suggest that there's a more obvious issue at hand here, and it affects more than just Motorola. The problem is poor education. Simply put, most new Android users don't know what they are getting into when they buy a new phone.

Here's a quick, Occam's Razor-style approach to looking at the problem. To put things in persepctive, we start by asking how long a customer had to return a new phone? On average, a user gets about 14 days. Next question: what do you do with your phone for the first two weeks? Naturally, you go crazy installing apps, playing games, and taking advantage of Android's capabilities. That's understandable, but remember that in the process you're blowing through your battery like nobody's business.

A sizable portion of today's Android adopters are people who make the jump from feature phone to smartphone. These are users who relied on their handset primarily for making calls and sending text messages. And with so many Android handsets going for less than $100, most users don't have to strech their budget to trade up. What's more, the desire to upgrade is only exacerbated when you watch your buddies spend their day playing Angry Birds and updating their social status from their smartphone.

So you decide to make the jump and buy an Android phone. The first thing you notice is, "Wow, I have to charge this thing every day!" Though long-time smartphone users are used to that, it comes as a shock to basic phone users. Instead, they're accustomed to charging their handsets once or twice a week.

Also, they now have a phone with a big 4-inch (or larger) screen and they want to play with it comstantly. Since they're downloading games and apps as fast as they can it's not long before they have multiple Twitter and Facebook clients, and countless other apps that run in the background. Maybe they have Weatherbug, Accuweather, and The Weather Channel on their phone because they'd like to figure out which is best. Maybe they're catching up on YouTube now because, well, because now they can.

Another factor is that most new Android users don't adjust settings for applications and notifications. As many of you have probably learned first-hand, your battery would much rather prefer to ping Twitter once every hour instead of 5-minute intervals. A majority of these social network clients, weather apps, and location-based app like to either start on bootup or stay running in behind the scenes. And each little thing like this puts a strain on your battery. Hey cool! I can run moving wallpaper on my home screen and put widgets? Yes please!

Right now, carriers are placing great emphasis on 4G networks and the great things that come with such tremendous speed. There's so much talk about how fast 4G is and how awesome it is to have an always-on data connection. Yet, there's very little talk or emphasis on what this does to your battery. The same can be said for Google Maps, Foursquare, and any other location-based applications.

I don't imagine too many new users heading off to the Android Market and installing a bunch of poorly written titles during the first few days. Rather, many want to install the hot games and apps that everyone is talking about, which usually aren't poorly written. It's not that any particular application or game is to blame, it's that so many small things add up. Gameloft is a very reputable company, which puts out one terrific game after another. But the simple truth is if you play enough Asphalt 6 on a 4.3-inch screen, you are going to quickly kill the battery.

I realize that this is a perfect-world scenario that relies heavily on generalizations, but I've seen it happen more than a few times. I've even done it myself. I recall my battery life being much worse on my Evo 4G during the first month that I had it. Since then, however, I've uninstalled and adjusted apps, stopped playing so many games, and quit watching as much YouTube. I'm much smarter today when it comes to Android. This is not to excuse any applications or to say that Android developers are doing the best they can. Indeed, there's always room for improvement, especially on the topic of battery life.

Editor's note, June 6, 2011: This blog post originally left out Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha's last name.