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Google Has Lost Control Of Android Fragmentation

Fragmentation allows variety among device makers, but can cause frustration for developers and lower satisfaction among end users.

If there's one complaint you hear about Google's Android platform, it is about fragmentation. It happens at the device level, the OS level, with the UI, and even with specific apps and services some carriers or manufacturers use. There are plusses and minuses to all of these, and it looks like Google has lost control, ceding the problems to the licensees.

Microsoft went through this with Windows Mobile starting in about 2005, and it created serious problems as the platform aged. Palm also had fragmentation in the later years of PalmOS, and it caused enough issues that some developers quit developing for the platform. The economics of developing apps has changed radically in the last two years, though, so fragmentation is no longer something that can be avoided. Instead, it must be dealt with.

As Charlie Kindel's article explains, fragmentation causes problems--but it won't be the death knell for Android.

Let's start with the UI. Users moving from one phone to another may have a very different experience because each manufacturer has customized the interface. Consumers are generally used to a consistent experience across different machines if the platform is the same. Windows computers are built by many manufactures, for example, but the desktop is the same overall. If you have an Android phone and move to another one, it can be a jarring experience to see that new screen for the first time and figure out how to do things with the new phone that were second nature with the old one.

Google is at least trying to alleviate some of the pain here. Manufacturers can put their custom UI on a device, but they are now required to also support the stock Holo theme so the user can revert to that if desired.

Another big issue is that carriers and manufacturers too often fail to provide updates for phones, even though the vast majority of phones are capable of running one, two, or more OS revisions beyond the one it shipped with. Today there are eleven major versions of Android in use on phones and tablets, and probably dozens of sub-versions. Fully 30% run Froyo, which is nearly two years old.

You cannot argue with the success Android has had in the market. But you have to wonder if Android's satisfaction rate, which is around 50%, would be higher if its fragmentation was more tightly controlled.

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User Rank: Apprentice
1/31/2012 | 10:09:16 PM
re: Google Has Lost Control Of Android Fragmentation
As for Android users not being concerned about fragmentation, I say speak for yourself. I've had the experience of storing business data in an app on one device only to have the app not run properly on another device that had not been updated to the newer version of Android. NOT fun. Android is a great product and many of the devices that use it are stellar. But sorry fella this is an issue and over time it could become a limiting one unless Google finds a way to retake the reins. That's all this article is raising; nothing about St Apple and Satan Google, or vice versa. So let's stick to that.

It's fair to say that other than the historical WinMo, there's been no other major player in the mobile space with the fragmentation that Android has. By no meaningful definition can you say that iOS or Blackberry OS is fragmented.

It's true that the first 3 iPhones and the original iPod Touch don't run iOS 5; they don't run iOS 4 either come to that. But Apple announced this publicly, in each case several years after the devices were released. Some folks may still be using these older devices; but tthey are surely a small minority. That's not what's meant by fragmentation.

The fact is that over 90% of iPhone users are able to update to the lastest OS at no charge--and have been able to do so since it went live. This is possible because--like Blackberry--Apple controls the entire ecosystem, both hardware and software. There are minuses to such control, but clearly the lack of fragmentation is a major plus.
Denny Crane
Denny Crane,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/31/2012 | 3:53:29 PM
re: Google Has Lost Control Of Android Fragmentation
The key difference between Android and Apple (and to a lesser extent, Microsoft) is the devices themselves. There are very basic Android phones that have no need of the higher numbered versions of Android. The same goes for tablets. The sub-$100 ones you see at a drug store run a very basic phone version of Android, and for their intended purposes... e-reading, basic web surfing, etc... are more than adequate. Android allows the freedom for different manufacturers to offer a different Android experience. The market will decide which is the winner.

Apple phones only differ in color and memory... when bought new. iOS 5 will not load onto older iPhones or iPod touch devices. That sounds like fragmentation to me. But, since they only have one current phone, they get a pass on the subject. Windows phone? Well, go try to load WP7 on an older Windows phone, like v6.1, and see what happens.

What Google IS doing is unifying the operating systems between tablets and phones. Instead of Gingerbread on the phone and Honeycomb on the tablet, Ice Cream Sandwich will serve both. Microsoft will be trying this the next time around, too with Windows 8.

And as far as Apple selling phones on the cheap... they're not. The carriers are. They're selling subsidized phones through AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless, taking a hit on the device and making it up on the contracts. Oh, and China? Probably don't want to bring that up with Apple, considering the problem they're having at their subcontractors plants there, what with the toxic waste, suicides, poor living conditions, working conditions, etc.

"Android Fragmentation" is simply a talking point used by people trying to push another OS. People who regularly use Android don't care. Just as iPhone 4s and WP7 owners don't care about fragmentation on their side, either.
Bay Area CA Male
Bay Area CA Male,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/26/2012 | 5:16:08 AM
re: Google Has Lost Control Of Android Fragmentation
Very good article and I'm glad to see that I am not the only one who recognizes this issue.

I think all you have to do is check out Apples latest numbers from the earnings report to realize that lots, and I mean millions of people have hadbit with android. And lets face it, with Apples satisfaction rates those people are NOT likely to return to android any time soon.

In this last quarter apple pretty match caught up to aneroid in markets share and in fact, when looking at the device sales, ios outsold anderoid across the board.
I have a feeling that ios will take over android even in smartphones.... just look at what just happened!!! 37 million iphones?!?!?! And most people do not even realize that iphones had not been released in China yet. Also, now Apple sells the iohone 4 for $99, and the 3GS is free. and sprint and another smaller carrier were added... so that means Apple might sell another 30+ million iphones in this next quarter. They will probably sell 15 million in China alone! Cook made it clear that Apple would have sold more had apple been able to make/produce more iPhones.
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