Android Still Struggling with Fragmentation

Carl Weinschenk
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The tension in the Android community stems from dealing with how to take the open source structure that is by definition open and flexible and introducing the precision and interoperability to make various releases of the operating system work across devices and vendors.

It's an ongoing challenge. NewsFactor and other sites report that the new 10-inch and 7-inch screen versions of Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablets have been delayed until the end of April. The story says that Samsung and Google still are working to customize Android 4.0 - Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) - to the devices.

The technical name for herding operating system cats - or, more accurately, when the cats wander off - is fragmentation. The NewsFactor piece quotes Current Analysis' Avi Greengart:

With no installed base of the latest OS, developers have no reason to write programs for the new OS. If they aren't targeting the new OS, they probably aren't using the latest programming tools -- which include the ability to create apps for different screen sizes.

In other words, things can quickly dissolve into a big mess. ICS is meant to serve both smartphones and tablets and, thus, is a key initiative against fragmentation. Here is a detailed technical comparison between the previous version of the the OS, Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), and ICS from Sony. A help blog pointing out some of the important issues from the Sony post is offered by James Kendrick at ZDNet. To make things even more confusing, Gizmodo offers advice on using ICS features on Gingerbread.

Lack of uptake is a concern. A Network World story says that only 2.9 percent of the Android devices that used Google Play in the two weeks prior to April 3 used ICS. Gingerbread accounted for 63.7 percent and Android 2.2 (Froyo) clocked in at 23.1 percent. The story notes that ICS should rise in percentage during the coming months as devices that include it hit the streets.

The open source drive of the past decade has been fraught with challenges. In addition to fragmentation, open source is prone to licensing and intellectual property issues. However, the promise of the approach - which is illustrated by the very success of Android - makes it a worthwhile endeavor. The open source ecosystem, from developers to device makers, is fighting to keep from being overwhelmed by the issues.

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