Rogers & Android: When the Carrier is the Bottleneck

A few months ago I was fortunate to get my hands on a Google/HTC Android Dev Phone. I got this device by registering as an Android developer and buying an unlocked phone. I always buy phones independent of any carrier as I often find that unlocked versions have far more features than branded devices you'd get from a mobile carrier like Rogers.

What fascinates me about Android is that it's open source, and from an innovation perspective has the potential for speedy evolution, as apps and improvements are contributed from diverse development communities. Unlike the iPhone, Android is open, and therefore easier for developers to contribute and make it a better platform with better applications.

However in order for these benefits to be realized, the phone running Android software needs to updated regularly. This was the primary reason I paid extra to get an unlocked version, so that I would be able to update the device myself. Unfortunately not everyone is willing to jump on the learning curve to do this, so the vast majority of Android owners bought their device from their carrier.

This creates a bottleneck, in which the owner of the device is dependent upon their carrier to approve an update. Here in Canada, if you have an Android phone from Rogers, this means you've been out of luck, and may be so for some time to come.

I've written previously about the power of crowd sourcing via bulletin board collaboration, as people work together to find the answers to difficult problems. This lack of Android support from Rogers was brought to my attention by Michael Schmidt who as a member of AndroidForums.com has worked to find out why Rogers has been so sluggish to make updates available.

Even worse, Rogers customers who have Android devices are also not able to access paid apps in the Android Marketplace. So in buying a device with the potential to experience the latest and greatest in mobile technology, they are limited if not blocked by their carrier! Talk about poor service.

Android is a neat platform, that has a lot of potential. The problem however is that it faces obstacles, and Rogers' failure to properly support it is a substantial one. Enabling openness is a smart way to harness the innovative potential of the internet.

At some point you have to assume Google will bypass carriers like Rogers and even manufacturers like HTC to offer their own device that connects to their own networks.

In the meantime I've picked up a Nokia N900, which runs Maemo Linux, and is even more open than Android. Will write a review soon.

Comments

Sadly the folks at Rogers seem to be somewhat confused about the smart phones they are peddling to the Canadian population. Internally no one is on the same page, and multiple users calling or emailing technical support are getting conflicting information regarding the availability of an important update to the Android operating system (Android 1.6).

As recently as a day ago, users emailing Rogers customer support (as opposed to technical support) were being told they can download Android 1.6 from Rogers tech support web site. Unfortunately it is not true. The file to which users are being directed is, in fact, a recent bug fix/security update. I spoke to a representative from the office of the president of Rogers last week and informed her this was happening, obviously they failed to get the correct information out to the CSRs. I forwarded the information today to their Twitter rep (@RogersMary) who has promised to pass along the information, but we'll have to see just how much good it does.

Ultimately it comes down to poor planning and preparation on Rogers' part. With the launch of such an exciting new phone platform on _multiple_ handsets (compared to the Apple iPhone), and with it getting so much press (at least in the rest of the world)one would think Rogers would do more to see it succeed, otherwise, why bother in the first place? As I suggested to the Rogers representative, Rogers should have (and still could) picked 10 to 20 CSRs and Tech support people, given them each an Android phone, and told them to become experts with Android. It isn't hard given the resources online. Then you would have a crack team ready to answer any and all Android questions (which will only increase the more Android handsets Rogers carries).

Android 1.6 has been available in other parts of the world, like the USA, since at least the beginning of October. In fact, in the US the OS update gets "pushed" to users OTA (Over the Air). Rogers, by comparison, has made it clear that _if_ they even get the 1.6 update, they will require users to download a file from the Rogers web site to their computer, and run the update themselves from there. Let's hope it's easy to do for the majority of users.

In my conversations with Rogers over the past week and a half, it became clear it is a case of one hand not speaking to the other, and neither hand actually knowing what's going on in their own departments. After repeated cajoling, the representative from the office of the president (we'll refer to it as the OotP from here out) told me she was contacting Tier 2 support, and _while_ I was on hold they checked the web site of the phone manufacturer (HTC in this case) to find out that an update was available! Imagine my surprise to discover that it seemed Rogers technical support wasn't even aware there was an update to the OS until a _user_ called to complain loudly enough! After further probing, involving the director of device management of Rogers Wireless, I was told that Rogers would be getting the update _from_ HTC for "testing and evaluation" by the end of December, and _might_ release an update in the new year.

I was buoyed by this potential progress, until someone else in the Android forum I frequent said he'd heard from another person in the OotP that it was in testing _now_. As much as I'd love it if this were true, it strikes me as interesting that two people from the same office receiving the same question are giving different answers. Time to get on the same page, Rogers!

I contacted Rogers' OotP again yesterday to ask them to clarify which answer was correct, and today received an email from a different person apologising for the confusion, and saying only that she "was advised from the Director of the Device Management group we would be working on the testing and evaluation for the Android 1.6 OS update from HTC". That, of course, doesn't really clarify anything.

Rogers is way behind on this one. This update is not a difficult thing to do, other carriers have had it out to their customers since the beginning of October. Users are getting very upset and grumbling about being sold a phone that was supposed to be cutting edge, but which is quickly becoming obsolete as new apps are released that won't work with the older version of the operating system. In my opinion, though the Android OS and my HTC Magic are, in fact, awesome, if you are considering getting an Android phone in Canada, you might want to hold off until Rogers announces whether or not they will actually support their Android phones going forward.

As a side note regarding "paid" apps in the market place, I feel the need to clarify this for readers. Currently Canadian Android users can only get _free_ apps in the market place, _regardless_ of carrier. This is not the fault of Rogers, but of Google, who have been painfully slow at implementing Paid apps for all countries, and Canada is not alone in this. Certainly Rogers could do much to persuade Google to get it done, but we can't blame them for the paid apps problem... yet.

Anyone interested in chiming in, or reading up on the whole problem can see the now 4 page thread here: http://androidforums.com/rogers/10647-rogers-dream-1-6-update.html

If you would like to contact Rogers to complain, visit their complaints page here: http://your.rogers.com/contact/complaint.asp

(Strangely, as of 8:26pm while I write this, the link above to the Rogers complaint page is returning an error. Maybe they're tired of people complaining about their lack of proper service and support?)

If you are on Twitter, you can contact the following two Rogers accounts:

http://twitter.com/RogersMary

http://twitter.com/RogersHelps

In the end what it boils down to for Rogers is that they are focused on the short-term. Their focus is in the short-term to grab as many users and increase their market share for 3 years by tying them into a contract.

They aren't looking at the long-term strategy of where they want to be in the next 4-5 years in terms of technology and providing a competitive advantage over their competitors.

In the end us consumers pay the price. But we also have to get smarter and avoid locking ourselves into contracts and be smart like Jesse, by purchasing the hardware of our choice out right through other avenues and not giving our hard earned money to these massive corporations who have nothing but their profits in mind.

I've only recently become aware that my Android phone from Rogers is out of date when I tried to use the new Google Maps features for Android and found myself out of luck.

I'm not happy that Rogers doesn't seem to be properly supporting the device. My phone is running version 1.5, several versions out of date from the new 2.0 release.

If Rogers is the sole way I can legally get updates on my phone, then they should be ethically - at least - required to make sure those updates are pushed out in a timely way.

If someone hacks my phone and steals my data because my software is out of date - this IS a web-surfing device after all - can I hold Rogers legally responsible for the damage?

Rogers, Rogers, Rogers.......

I guess Rogers really does not care to catch on the android wave and support their products they would just rather sell us new phones. Well all this negative publicity in regards to android will cause new users to look elsewhere due to the lack of support and spend their money with another company. I have no desire to support Rogers when they will not even stand by their own products.

It is very baffling why Rogers would not support the HTC Dream / Magic and update to version 1.6 and eventually 2.0 and so on. Android is the fastest growing market in smart phones and leaving their customers with old OS will ensure that Canada lags behind in Android support.

HTC, HTC, HTC

Well all the blame cannot go to Rogers either cause at the end of the day this is a HTC phone and is obvious they just want to sell handsets but by allowing carriers to not provide updates for the phones they certainly are hurting their image and will cause android users to look at others brands as well.

Google, Google, Google

Great OS but.......You need to learn a thing or two from the iphone and that you need to rollout these updates across the board on these phones just not ones you brand and make. Failing to do so is a major mistake and will cost you in the long run. While android may be taking off and getting a larger market share how do you think the sales are going to be in a few years when android owners are tired of being handcuffed from the carriers and manufactures of your phones by poor support....I love my android phone but i tell you a unlocked iphone is looking allot more attractive to me specially in the long run....Having updates for the android is what makes the Google experience much richer and with carriers not supporting 1.6 or 2.0 android is sure to upset many customers as it has done in Canada already.

In the mean time putting pressure on Rogers and all the negative press they are going to receive on this and loss of revenue may force their hands to actually do something about it instead of responding with their generic corporate responses.
If need be the Android users of Rogers who have the HTC Dream, Magic and EVE will persue this diligently.

All i have to say is thank god my contract is up this summer ....Nexus One, Wind, Dave, Public Mobile will all get a chance to get my money since Rogers has proven all they care about is your money not customer satisfaction.

To educate yourself more on this topic and find out all that has been done and said by the customers, Rogers, HTC regarding Android updates for Canadian users please read the forums.

http://androidforums.com/rogers/10647-rogers-dream-1-6-update.html

Add new comment