Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why you old phone is slow

I was recently asked by a great friend, "So do you know why Droid's go to shit when they are old?  Is the hardware breaking down?"  I did not work for Android, and this is my personal (if somewhat educated) view on the subject.

A desktop and a laptop to an extent can be over provisioned in terms of hardware with no adverse consequences.  Mobile devices don't have the same luxury - they have to balance performance with the available battery technology at the time of production.  So to give people the best battery life (something they complain about a lot) they have to build the phone with just enough horse power to run the OS at time of design with 1+ years of design time...  They try to anticipate needs when the device will actually be built, but that's hard.  you are trying to design a product that will use a CPU that may not even physically exist yet, with a battery you hope will exist, and an operating system that is being built by a separate team (maybe even a different company) that you can estimate will need more resources that the state of the art.

So with all that in mind it becomes more clear why it is easier for companies that control the hardware and software to build a device that works for a long time.  This is why I have come to appreciate the Nexus Android devices, because the software is designed with the hardware.  Think about the team that was building ICS, they were developing and testing it on Nexus S devices - hence even though it premiered on the Galaxy Nexus it runs very well on the Nexus S.  This is why even though these devices may not have the fastest processor or bells and whistles they will operate better for longer than other devices.

That said, the fact that Android is open source allows the community of developers to make up for the shortcomings of the companies that originality produced the Driod Something.  Custom ROMs can be tweaked and fit to run well on legacy devices, but locked boot-loaders (not the case on Nexus devices) and grumpy wireless carriers hinder this process.

So how about not installing any updates and keeping the exact same software that was on the phone when it was purchased?  First realize that the phone that was on the phone when it was purchased is not the software that was used to design the device (software updates for pre-production code come rapidly and they are generally non-trivial changes).  second you cannot get away with not installing software updates both for your own safety/privacy/happiness, but also as a responsible user of the network that we call the Internet (I don't want SMS spam from your phone).

So if you want to have a good long term relationship with your phone get a Nexus device, iPhone, or look for phones with unlocked boot-loaders and be prepared to tinker with it yourself.