Is Fragmentation Control on Google's Dessert Menu?

Carl Weinschenk

One of the issues that threatens the future of Google’s Android operating system is fragmentation. Essentially, this is a tendency of different vendors to configure a version of the OS in such a way that various elements don’t operate the same across the platforms.

A related issue is the existence of a wide variety of different releases of the OS. The company names its releases after desserts, and it now sports quite a Viennese table of offerings.

Google posted an item this week that said its latest confectionery creation, Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0+), is on 10.9 percent of Android devices. That’s up a healthy 3.8 percent compared to June’s figures, according to PCMag. However, there still is a lot of processed sugar — rather, life — in older versions of the OS. Use of Gingerbread — Android 2.3 — is essentially unchanged during the past three months. It is at 64 percent now, which is one percentage point lower than last month. It was at 64.4 percent in May.

The rest of the menu looked like this for the end of June: Froyo (Android 2.2) was at 17.3 percent, Android Eclair (Android 2.0) was at 4.7 percent, Honeycomb (Android 3.0) was at 2.4 percent and a couple of still-older versions of the OS ran at less than 1 percent each.

The list of versions got longer last week as Jelly Bean was introduced at the Google I/O conference. According ITProPortal, veteran Google watchers were surprised that the new version was labeled Android 4.1 and not 5.0. The story describes the attributes of Jelly Bean — improved responsiveness, automatic widget formatting, voice recognition and others — and explains the change in Android’s numbering convention. The story also describes Google’s new strategy of working with multiple device vendors for product sales direct to customers.

The change in the number scheme is most important to close observers. What is of more interest to IT departments and others is how Google deals with the fragmentation issue. ZDNet’s Eric Lai suggested that another announcement at the I/O conference — the release of a software development kit (SDK) — could mitigate the problem by easing the task for developers working on new devices and helping them to update older ones in a more timely fashion, though carriers will remain an obstacle.

Google’s model always has left it open to the fragmentation challenge. The sense — and hope — is that the company has fully taken ownership of the issue.

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