In a big “oops” for the Android platform, a year-long study by WDS ( of more than 600,000 technical support calls has found that Android devices are more likely to develop a hardware fault than many of their smartphone competitors.

Fourteen percent of all technical support calls for Android devices related to hardware faults in contrast to just 3.7% for RIM BlackBerry, 8% for iPhones (iOS) and 9% for Windows Phone 7 devices, according to the wireless industry’s provider of specialist managed services. The greater propensity for hardware faults is, says WDS, a symptom of the platform’s fragmentation across a broad range of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Both Apple and RIM control their hardware ecosystems and Microsoft mandates minimum hardware specifications for Windows Phone deployments. In contrast, Android is widely deployed by more than 35 OEMs globally under an open source license.

The study found that instances of hardware faults varied between OEM deployments, with some brands showing a propensity to display faults, others to keypad/button failures and some to microphone and battery issues. The findings, says WDS, highlight the need for mobile operators to consider the total cost of ownership, including support and potential reverse logistics costs, and not just the unit price of the device when ranging product.

“Android has been instrumental in bringing smartphone technology into the mass-market. The maturation of the industry, availability of hardware components and a reduction in manufacturing costs has seen some OEMs drop the price of Android smartphones below US$100,” explains Craig Rich, chief marketing officer at WDS. “However, many of these factors are also driving varying levels of hardware quality into the market, in turn delivering an inconsistent customer experience.”

Unlike many support calls taken by mobile operators, such as connectivity and service configuration, hardware failures cannot typically be resolved by customer service representatives. Instead they add further cost by entering the returns and repair channel.

“Mobile operators have to make important decisions when selecting which smartphones to range on their networks,” adds Rich. “They must balance the need to introduce low-cost smartphone devices with the total cost of ownership; a $100 smartphone might not look so attractive if it drives x3 more support cost over its lifetime or has an above-average return rate that impacts customer loyalty,” finishes Rich.

The study took place between June 2010 and May 2011 and covered 600,000 technical support calls taken by WDS across Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia.

— Dennis Sellers