Android and the Fragmentation Question

Carl Weinschenk
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One of the more interesting issues facing the development community-and the broader IT and telecommunications worlds-has broken into the light during the past week or so.

One of the hallmarks of open source software is that it is open. Developers can take it and change it to fit their tastes. The inherent threat is that changes will be so great in so many cases that the different versions of the software-in this case, the Android operating system-won't support the applications in the same way and otherwise operate differently. This is known as "fragmentation."

This is a big issue as Android grows. Andy Rubin, Google's vice president of engineering-the man credited with the development of Android-addressed the issue this week in a post on the Android Developers Blog. This from the longer post:

If someone wishes to market a device as Android-compatible or include Google applications on the device, we do require the device to conform with some basic compatibility requirements. (After all, it would not be realistic to expect Google applications-or any applications for that matter-to operate flawlessly across incompatible devices.)

There are a couple of points here. The first is that the basic technical issues here are highly complex and understood by just a handful of people. It stands to reason that following the rules set down by Google involve some judgment calls and interpretations. The other related issue is more general: This is a high-stakes game. Perhaps the way in which the rules are interpreted by folks on both sides will be influenced by the big dollars on the table, especially as the world of Google-based tablets grows.

This paragraph from a NewsFactor story seems to suggest that something other than technical purity may be at play:

Last month, Google said it was holding back its tablet-optimized Android 3.0 Honeycomb platform from smaller phone manufacturers because the OS had to be further refined to be released as open format. But it was being released to larger companies, such as Motorola and HTC, which led to complaints about Google's control and preferential treatment.

The general thought-echoed at The Wall Street Journal-seems to be that Google hasn't paid much attention to policing Android in the past, but is starting to now. It will be interesting to see how this drama plays out going forward.

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