Android handset failures cost operators $2bn per year

The return of Android devices by consumers is costing operators around $2bn per year, as they struggle to manage consumer expectations, according to research released this week.

A study conducted by wireless experience management experts WDS has revealed that of the four leading mobile operating systems, there is a higher than average propensity for hardware failure on Android-based devices. Fourteen per cent of technical support calls on Android relate to hardware, compared with 11 per cent for Windows Phone, seven per cent for iOS and six per cent for BlackBerry OS.

The $2bn figure is arrived at as WDS estimates that each handset return costs operators around $80 on average, taking into account factors such as who in the supply chain pays for returns, restocking, restocking and transportation.

However, according to WDS’ marketing VP, Tim Deluca-Smith, the handset return rate is not attributable to problems with Google’s software, but rather how handset manufacturers are using the Android platform and how operators are promoting the Android user experience.

“One thing we must be absolutely clear on is that our analysis does not find any inherent fault with the Android platform. Its openness has enabled the ecosystem to grow to a phenomenal size, at a phenomenal rate, and it’s this success that is proving challenging,” he said.

In a WDS report, entitled “Controlling the Android”, the firm found that the introduction of low-cost hardware, a variety of software customisations and the process for delivering OS updates to consumers all impacted the return rate of Android devices.

“A lot of operators treat Android as a standard implementation with a consistent, uniform customer experience – just as they do with iPhone and BlackBerry products. But given the open nature of Android, this of course isn’t the case.”

Deluca-Smith added that the Android customer experience differs hugely between devices and as a result, operators must alter the way in which Android devices are sold and supported, and must consider factors such as the hardware build and quality of components.

Deluca-Smith also advised operators to also use bargaining power that arises from hardware faults to negotiate better deals from handset manufacturers. He cited the example of Angry Birds creator Rovio Mobile, which began getting complaints that the game was running poorly on a number of Android handsets.

It discovered that some handsets with poor specifications were unable to deliver a quality gaming experience, and was one reason that customers were returning Android handsets to the operator. The game developer subsequently pulled the app and launched the less feature-intensive Angry Birds Lite, to run smoothly on those handsets.

“An operator should monitor which handsets are being returned and for which hardware faults,” explained Deluca-Smith. “They can then go to the handset manufacturers and say: ‘Your last handset cost us $10m due to returns, whereas other manufacturers handsets cost us less than half of that – what are you going to do about it?’”

Operators should also invest time and resources in educating customers, he added, in order to better manage their expectations. He advised that at the point of sale, operators should explain to customers that enabling wifi, 4G, 3G and Bluetooth all at once will shorten battery life considerably, for example, and certain apps will only be available on higher-spec handsets.

“Operators need to help customers get over the perception that Android is just Android. It’s not – the Android experience can vary from one handset to another.”

He added that they should also consider which handsets to offer more carefully.

“Too many operators are offering handsets to plug a gap in their product portfolio. Often, they just want to be able to offer a cheap smartphone, but at the end of the day, you get what you pay for. It’s fine to offer a low-cost handset, but the consumer needs to be aware of where that product fits in the portfolio and that it is not a high-spec device. The accountability is on operators to position their products correctly, and for this reason, they should also invest in testing the capability of the hardware and ensuring they sell quality handsets.”


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