Motorola Cliq Android 2.1 Update

Cliq owners everywhere likely appreciate the device’s hardware as much as I do.  The software is another thing entirely, weighed down heavily by Motoblur and other customized software that seems extremely sluggish.  The prevailing thoughts on the Motorola forums are either disgust with the lack of an Android upgrade or attacking other posters as “whiners” for being so demanding about an update.  The truth, in my case at least, is that it is not so much the Android 2.1 upgrade that myself and others have demanded, but that the Android 1.5 Frankenstein that Motorola created is completely untenable.  The UI is incredibly unresponsive.  You are stuck with many system services running above and beyond the default Android offerings.  Much of the latest software that could possibly improve the experience requires at least Android 1.6.

My wife’s MyTouch 3G, at the other extreme, responds to every UI input immediately.  It’s 1.6 Android, though now seeming dated, is still widely supported by developers.  She has had NO REASON to even wonder about available updates.

Cliq users are angry because 1.) the software doesn’t live up to the quality of the hardware; 2.) updates were promised to a better software experience, namely Android 2.1; 3.) the update was scheduled, not delivered on time, and then seems to have “been” disappeared in a way only corporate America and rogue governments can do.

Aggravating though it may be, the enterprising users are not without their options.  Installing an open-source based offering such as “Eclair2CLIQ” allows users to have a nearly-complete Android 2.1 minus a couple of supported hardware items.  For me, the drawbacks were battery life, lack of Bluetooth support (as of Beta1), and occasional crashing when the GPS was turned on and off.  It was a fun experience from rooting to flashing a custom recovery image to installing the Eclair2CLIQ software.  Both Alpha5 and Beta1 were tested.  Significant improvements were made between these two consecutive releases of the software.  Regrettably, Travis James has announced his retirement and has handed off the project to his buddy “HandlerExploit”.  Hopefully development will continue to advance under his watch.

Another option is the “Morrison 2025” build that is floating around the web.  It seems to be at least a draft of what Motorola has built of its 2.1 release and has refused to release so far.  Considering that Motorola had access to all the hardware specifications and wrote the original Motoblur, it is amazingly barely better than Eclair2CLIQ.  The same performance issues that plagued the 1.5 release seem to be there, though admittedly somewhat diminished.  One important comparison data point is RAM usage.  Eclair2CLIQ has close to 100 MB free after installation.  The Motoblur-enabled 2.1 release comes in closer to 50 MB.

These options should at least give geeks something to play with while waiting, waiting, waiting for what seems like it will never come–an open and much more standard Android 2.x running on the Cliq and supported by Motorola.  The most serious hackers can continue to press forward on the open source offerings, but the reality is that the platform is so closed that they face an uphill battle with almost every hardware driver they want to support.  I for one know I don’t have the time to put into a project of that scope.

The most disappointing fact of all this is that many of the purchasers of the Cliq were drawn by the then-impressive hardware including the hardware keyboard AND the implication that they could take advantage of the open Android system.  Motorola has changed so much on the Cliq that I am not even confident that applications run the same as on other Android systems.  The point may be moot as only the 1.5 API is available to developers writing for the Cliq.

Motorola only has one viable course of action, and I hope they take it: build a stock Android 2.1 or even 2.2 system that runs on the Cliq.  Then, provide Motoblur-like functionality in a way that a user only has to absorb the cost of running things they actually want to run.  Then, NEVER MAKE THIS MISTAKE AGAIN!  Namely, if you are going to participate in the Android world, be as open and standard as possible.  You will make life easier for everyone.  Some of you who read my rant against Apple following my MacBook Pro experience might draw parallels and think I just hate corporate America.  There are some parallels to be drawn, but I still think Motorola has done a lot of things right.  They chose a great platform to build upon.  They built solid hardware which I have abused and not found lacking.  They built some really neat social network integration that is fun to use.  I haven’t given up on them.  If by any chance, Motorola’s Q2 delay is because they found it necessary to shift gears and do exactly what I suggest here, I will be happy to wait for the upgrade.  It should be a pleasure to use.