The Three Faces of Android

Carl Weinschenk

There is an important debate going on in the Android community about operating systems. It's really a dialog that has been going on for some time, but the increase in the number of versions of the operating system, the growth in applications and the number of vendors offering devices based on the software makes it more relevant than ever.


The crux of the conversation is well presented in this eWEEK piece. Users are complaining that certain applications-and, in many cases, the most attractive ones-are only available on certain versions of the open source operating system. For example, Google Gesture Search is available only on Android 2.0 or higher. That leaves users of many Android-based devices in the cold.


It's an important conversation to have. It's also important not to conflate different issues.


Many observers refer to the fragmentation of Android. Actually, there are three issues to keep an eye on. The first is interoperability. There is no guarantee that version 1.6 of Android, for instance, will work the same for different vendors. The second issue is that each version of Android has different capabilities, which may lead to some angry end users. Finally, the fact that each vendor adds its own look and feature set to its devices means that even devices running on the same version of the OS generally can be radically different animals.


It's important not to fuse these issues, since each may have different solutions and ramifications-and can anger or disappoint different groups of people. Developers, for instance, are said in this CoolTechZone post to decry the number of versions of the OS that are in play. On the other hand, this commentary at The Motley Fool suggests that Android's approach is a refreshing counterpoint to the regimented world of proprietary smartphone OSes, though the writer doesn't say it in those words.


Regardless of whether these challenges-which, by the way, are part and parcel of the wacky world of open source software -- are a good thing or not, it behooves IT departments and consumers to understand what is going on. Indeed, it's fair to say that a bit more attention must be paid than in the proprietary world. This complexity deepens IT's responsibility to offer wise counsel to its organization to ensure that recommended devices support the services that are needed now and have a clear path to continue doing so in the future.

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