When it comes to mobile technology, it's amazing how much can change in a few short years. We've gone from having low-powered, low-resolution devices to carrying pixel-packed smartphones with PC-like processing power. And we've gone from Verizon being the carrier for the latest and greatest Android gadgets to being one of the worst places an Android enthusiast can be.
To be fair, the carrier's devolution as a serious Android player has been happening for a few years now. But over the last several months, the disadvantages of being an Android fan on Verizon have grown more and more difficult to ignore.
The latest reminder of Big Red's big disappointment came this week with the HTC One -- one of the best Android phones of the season and one that's earned near-universal rave reviews. The HTC One launched on all the major U.S. carriers in mid-April. On Monday, Verizon finally announced it would offer the device -- sometime "later this summer."
We saw the same late-to-the-game effect with another one of the year's highly sought-after Android contenders: the Galaxy S4. The phone launched on all the major carriers and even U.S. Cellular in late April; it didn't hit Big Red until a full month later. Now, in the grand scheme of life, is waiting an extra month (or four) that big of a deal? Of course not. But for an Android enthusiast who's been salivating over a smartphone for months already, it's anything but ideal.
And here's the real rub: Delayed availability isn't even the worst part about being an Android fan on Verizon these days. In many cases, desirable Android experiences never make it to VZW at all. Take the Nexus 4, Google's own current Android flagship. Want to use it on Verizon? Not gonna happen. The same will almost certainly apply to the upcoming "Google Edition" Galaxy S4 and HTC One phones. Why? Flip back to a little chapter called the Verizon Galaxy Nexus if you don't already know.
It's actually gotten to the point where anytime I write about a hot Android new device, I count the seconds from when I hit "publish" until the moment I see the inevitable disheartened comment: "Great news...except for those of us stuck on Verizon." Let's face it: With the exception of the Droid Razr HD phones last fall, pretty much every exciting Android device in recent memory has launched outside of Verizon's domain (initially, at least, if not permanently). In fact, if I were to list the devices I'd consider the best overall Android phones on the market right now, three out of four wouldn't currently be available to Verizon subscribers.
Beyond all of that, Verizon's grown notoriously bad about providing timely OS upgrades to its devices; multicarrier phones on Verizon are almost always the last of the pack to receive software updates.
And then there's the other stuff, like the carrier's continued blocking (or "not blocking but not allowing," if you want to play corporate word games) of apps like Google Wallet and its shady stance on Android tethering applications. Add in the fact that unlike the more common GSM-based networks, Verizon's CDMA technology makes it impossible for you to bring in your own unlocked, non-carrier-specific device, and you've got a perfect storm of undesirable circumstances for the hardcore Android fan.
In the big picture, does any of that matter to Verizon? Probably not. Keeping things in perspective, true Android enthusiasts -- the kind of people who care about this stuff -- make up a small percentage of customers. Clearly, the carrier's tactics aren't having a negative effect on its bottom line; most folks just walk into a store every few years and pick out a new phone on the spot. And that's perfectly fine.
If you happen to fall into the category of "Android enthusiast," though, you're different. You look at mobile technology in a way that's anything but average. This stuff does matter -- to you.
Here's the good news: As an Android enthusiast on Verizon, you're sitting in a self-made prison. Only you can weigh out the various factors involved and decide what's right for your needs -- Verizon does tend to have excellent coverage in many areas, which makes its inferior approach to Android all the more aggravating -- but the next time a device launches outside your reach or an upgrade takes too long to reach you, before you slip out that disappointed sigh, remember one thing:
You hold the key.
(Angry Android image via AndroidU/DeviantArt)