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6/1/2010
04:28 PM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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Google Offers More Thoughts On Android Fragmentation

One of Android's biggest drawbacks -- according to users -- is the fragmentation issue. Some devices "get stuck" on one version of Android and are left behind while other devices -- and their apps -- can update and enjoy new features. Google says it is working hard to rectify the "compatibility" problem.

One of Android's biggest drawbacks -- according to users -- is the fragmentation issue. Some devices "get stuck" on one version of Android and are left behind while other devices -- and their apps -- can update and enjoy new features. Google says it is working hard to rectify the "compatibility" problem.TechCrunch recently spoke to Google's Andy Rubin. Rubin, of course, is the main man behind the Android platform. Rubin share a number of thoughts with TechCrunch, but the most important was this:

So we launched it, and from our internal 0.8, we got to 1.0 pretty quickly, and we went through this iteration cycle. You've noticed, probably, that that's slowed down a little bit. Our product cycle is now, basically twice a year, and it will probably end up being once a year when things start settling down, because a platform that's moving - it's hard for developers to keep up. I want developers to basically leverage the innovation. I don't want developers to have to predict the innovation.
By slowing down the update process, it will give developers, OEMs, carriers and even customers a chance to catch their collective breath. The clamoring from customers for system updates has got to be killing the carriers, as they struggle to offer the newest software to myriad different devices. This is how Apple does things. It offers major system upgrades once per year, and minor fixes in between. Palm has also taken to this model with webOS, as has Microsoft with Windows Mobile (sort of).

Rubin's thoughts here fall perfectly into line with those of Dan Morrill, Open Source & Compatibility Program Manager at Google. Morrill recently shared some thoughts about Android and he says the company is working hard to overcome what he terms the "F-Word." Morrill writes, "Stories on 'fragmentation' are dramatic and they drive traffic to pundits' blogs, but they have little to do with reality. 'Fragmentation' is a bogeyman, a red herring, a story you tell to frighten junior developers. Yawn."

Morrill notes that real challenges exist, but they can certainly be overcome. According to Google's base definition, compatibility means the ability for an application -- written with the Android SDK -- to run properly on an Android device. That's all it has to do to work. Several factors can get in the way, including bugs, hardware omissions, and additional or changes APIs.

Google claims it is working hard with its OEM partners to make sure that applications and services run across all versions of Android. With so many different versions in the market right now, that is understandably a difficult chore. As Google slows down Android platform development to a yearly upgrade cycle, it should alleviate a pain point for everyone when it comes to compatibility.

Morrill said, "Android is 100% forward compatible - apps written properly for older versions also run on the newest versions. The choice is in app developers' hands as to whether they want to live on the bleeding edge for the flashiest features, or stay on older versions for the largest possible audience. And in the long term, as the mobile industry gets more accustomed to the idea of upgradeable phone software, more and more devices will be be upgraded."

In other words, don't always blame Google and the OEM. Other parties play a role here, too. If we're lucky, the issue will be surmounted through the efforts of all the parties combined.

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