Google got some good news this week. One of the company’s big fears — and a big fear of device makers and others who rely on its Android operating system (OS) — is fragmentation. In short, there are so many device vendors, form factors (types of devices and screen sizes) and versions of the OS where functions and applications could work in some instances and not in others.
It is a topic that the entire mobile world is watching closely and an issue that potentially could significantly hurt Android, which is in essence a grand experiment in the commercialization of open source software.
The good news is that numbers collected during the last two weeks of November suggest that fragmentation is abating a bit. They suggest that users are focusing on Ice Cream Sandwich, which is the second to latest version of Android. Here is how Ars Technica puts it:
While software fragmentation is still definitely a problem for smartphones and tablets running the open-source operating system, the numbers paint a picture of slow but continuous improvement: 34.2 percent of all users are now running Ice Cream Sandwich or newer. That's a considerable improvement from just six months ago when Ice Cream Sandwich accounted for a paltry seven percent of all Android devices. Now, at 6.8 percent, both versions of Jelly Bean have nearly overtaken that number by themselves.
I would take exception to the author’s characterization of the movement as slow. Now, two versions of the OS — Ice Cream Sandwich and Gingerbread — account for 78.3 percent of the Androids measured during the testing period. The post at the Android developers’ site has a lot more information, including the trends in the screen sizes of devices using the OS.
It also is worth noting that the percentage of devices using Jelly Bean, the latest version of the OS, more than doubled — from 2.7 percent to 6.7 — from November to the latest report, according to BGR. That’s good news too — especially if Google is planning to take a break from introducing high caloric versions of the software.
The seriousness with which Google takes the fragmentation question — and, most likely, the corporate encouragement they must feel with the recent results — is evident in the move last month to tweak the terms of the software developers kit (SDK). The changes are open-ended, vague and aimed at the wrong party, since Google and handset makers have more control over fragmentation than developers. It is a sure sign of the company’s thinking, however.
The bottom line is that fragmentation still is a looming threat despite the good news. Hopefully, at least for its sake, Google has a strategy to confront the problem. This could be structured around less frequent introductions and better coordination with developers, network service providers, handset makers and other members of the ecosystem.