Fragmentation Still Dogs Android

Carl Weinschenk
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10 Things to Get Excited About in Android Marshmallow

Google has begun its phased in rollout of its next operating system, which is Marshmallow, Android 6.0. The devices that will get Marshmallow first are the Nexus 5 and 6 smartphones, the Nexus 7 and 9 tablets from 2013 and the Nexus Player. Older Nexus handsets, according to InformationWeek, will not get Marshmallow.

The Nexus 6P and 5X will be the first to come loaded with Marshmallow. The story says that strong demand has pushed the date for that to the middle of next month, and links to a piece outlining the new features offered by the OS, which writer Eric Zeman calls “compelling.”

The introduction of a new version of Android is a good time to check in on the fragmentation issue, which is almost as old as Android itself.


Last week, SearchMobileComputing’s Robert Sheldon wrote that concerns about fragmentation are holding Android back in the enterprise. The sense is that fragmentation is more serious in the enterprise than on the consumer side. A business has to support a wide variety of manufacturers, each of which likely approaches a given version of Android slightly differently. Thus, the most obvious solution – settling on one brand and a limited number of Android variants – is impractical in an era featuring bring your own device (BYOD) and general mobile openness:

If an organization is willing to restrict its users to one manufacturer, administrators will likely be more successful managing the devices, but such a strategy limits the organization's options and generally does not sit well with its employees.

The issue is not clearing itself up. BGR’s Brad Reed posts charts on the distribution of Android OSes now, about a year ago and about two years ago. The bottom line of the charts, which of course cover versions of Android, since introductions have occurred over that time, is that Google still has a problem:

Taken together, we can see that it’s taking longer for the latest versions of Android to get out to handsets than it has in past years. While Google has tried to do a better job of getting the latest software to devices, we can see that its efforts haven’t been successful: The Android fragmentation situation simply isn’t improving and is, if anything, getting worse.

Smartphone

It’s axiomatic to say that fragmentation is a problem. What, exactly, does that mean, however? Dick Weisinger at Formtek points to two ramifications of fragmentation. One is that developers can’t test their apps on all combinations of OS versions and vendor devices. This means that compatibility and other problems are much more likely to arise. The great number of combinations of hardware and software make security issues more likely as well.

The reality is that fragmentation is a bigger deal in the enterprise than the consumer sector. Consumers own a phone. It either does what the owner wants it to or it doesn’t. An enterprise supports many devices and must make applications work on them. They also must ensure that security is maintained. Fragmentation makes this difficult and, thus, is a far more serious impediment to Android’s success in the enterprise.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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