Android is a mobile operating system that prides itself in providing extended functionality to it’s users. Providing a broad array of customization is one way the platform achieves this. The development, adoption and rather feeble diffusion of custom ROMs has played an integral part in pushing the boundaries of this personalisation agenda. Citing Cyanogen Mod’s transitioning from a custom ROM for a niche set of Android users, to becoming the variant Android of choice for a manufacturers offering is such a case in point.
However, if custom ROMs are too niche, or are for ‘tech savvy’ types, Google’s Play Store supplies users with millions of apps. A certain percentage of these are utility apps, a subset of which are personalization focused. Launchers fall into this category. Additionally, “rooting” has also been popular within the Android community, as users have sort more autonomy of their devices; regardless of voiding warranties from manufacturers.
Mobile strategy and users perceptions
More recent Information Systems research concerned with the adoption of mobile devices indicates a more autonomous view of mobile devices, opposed to the earlier deterministic outlook. Smartphone users don’t just choose their devices; they further decide what it means to them. Alternate perspectives emerge: the varying values which users seek from smartphones suggests this.
Concepts like ‘contextualisation’ serve as tools employed in resolving the concerns of this multiplicity – creating a bespoke environment for the user. Expressly, providing personalized experiences for users should be part of a future-proof strategy for mobile. Google evidently subscribes to this position, and customization is one proposition of such to the Android user that suggests this.
This offering is rather complex, and the proposition from the supplier standpoint is multifaceted. One can customize their device by the unique selection of apps. Apps can be used to customize the device (for instance a launcher). Furthermore, customization is provided by tailored services rendered to the user through contextualization.
More hedonistic customization can even be further achieved by a selection of accessories for personalizing the artifact; albeit mundane by some individuals’ standards. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, users have the option of flashing custom ROMs – an activity that elaborates the potential for even further customization.
Environments: the current response to users varying needs?
Consider Joze, a relatively new smartphone adopter. She wants a device for the more common uses like: connecting with friends and acquaintances via social networks; streaming online media; and the irregular voice calls. She prefers to see and feel what she intends to buy before payment – she does not subscribe to the idea of online purchasing, yet will compare products online – hence she can be considered an online shopper. For her, the smartphone is an extension that projects her virtual self, an extension of sort; as opposed to a raw utility.
She wants a Samsung Edge phone. Her friend has one. She’s read reviews and shopped around for the best price it can be had. She likes what she’s seen but still has some concerns about the user interface. She loves the hardware design; it fits her desires, but she doesn’t want her phone’s environment looking like anyone else’s. She can’t be bothered with custom ROMs. The disclaimers associated with them highly influences her decision of non adoption. Being that the Galaxy edge is an Android device, she has a range of easy-to-apply launchers she can choose from.
Users wanting more autonomy of their devices as displayed above tend to materialize through the values they aim to achieve by adopting the device. Contemporary Information Systems literature shows this. The context-laden view of the above scenario shows a more dynamic and possible fluidity of users; each aiming to derive varying satisfaction from adopting a smartphone – indicative of varying uses. If reality is then viewed as individual’s perceptions, the possible combinations of value sought increases radically. In other words, customization is sought; personalization is the response, and it is achieved via an environment; at least at the software level.
A less common, resource view of the artifact tends to present a more dynamic picture – at least one more sophisticated than viewing the artifact as a black box; in my opinion. Within this view, there’s an existing notion of a dichotomy – the operand and the operant resources. Some models have even suggested a hierarchical nature; consider the Service Dominant Logic’s (Vargo & Lusch, 2004) primacy of the operant resource.
However, when adapted to understanding mobile devices, taking the view of resources the Logic holds seems rather simplistic. Smartphones display qualities of both kind of resources – an interplay exists that weaves both into the essence and existence of the artifact. After all, the operant is dependent on the operand. Without the physical artifact, the complex software operations that are possible mean nothing or at best significantly useless to the user.
It is my position that, it is this operand- operant mix that Android as a platform leverages to excel in the mobile landscape; delivering tailored environments to varying user’s needs. Factor in a pool of OEMS providing a large variety of hardware across a wide array of price points; most of them incorporating additional personalisation for the user through the embedded software. Of all smartphone operating systems, this is unique to Android at the moment.
The Implication for Google Pixel smartphones
Recognising the above raises the consideration of the implication of the ‘Pixel’ line of smartphones, for Android as a platform. This is without regards for the price. Good move? Not so smart one? A sustainable one? What are your thoughts?