Views Differ on the Dangers of Android Fragmentation

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Top 20 Android Apps in the U.S.

The top Android apps ranked by usage.

The opinions on Android fragmentation are, well, fragmented.

The basic idea is that the open source platform will be specialized to such an extent that versions will be incompatible. Instead of a single OS that has unique features and abilities based on the vendor - but can be used on any device - it's a fragmented OS that, in essence, is many different operating systems.

Google has been fighting this battle through all the versions of Android and hopes to take a major step with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, which, among other things, will be able to accommodate both tablets and smartphones. While that doesn't eliminate the danger of fragmentation, it's a big step in the right direction.

A study was released this week, however, claiming that fragmentation isn't as big an issue as many observers say. Localytics reports that 96 percent of Android handsets use either Gingerbread (73 percent) or Froyo (23 percent). Screen sizes indeed are fragmented (and the highest concentration - 4.3 inches - tops out at 41 percent). Screen resolutions, the company said, are less fragmented. One size - 800 x 480 pixels - accounts for 61 percent of resolutions.

The conclusion by the firm is that the problem isn't all it's cracked up to be:

For both screen size and resolution, Android developers have more to deal with than iOS developers, thanks to Apple's single handset form factor. However, with five options accounting for more than 90% of all Android app usage, the fragmentation is not particularly daunting.

Ed Hansberry, in an InformationWeek post that was published before the study was released, clearly doesn't think the fragmentation is innocuous. This is how the post starts:

If there's one complaint you hear about Google's Android platform, it is about fragmentation. It happens at the device level, the OS level, with the UI, and even with specific apps and services some carriers or manufacturers use. There are plusses and minuses to all of these, and it looks like Google has lost control, ceding the problems to the licensees.

He proceeds to run through the issue, and links to a piece by Charlie Kindel. That piece goes into considerable depth about the issue. The bottom line from his perspective is that fragmentation is real, multi-layered (user interface, device operating system, marketplace and service) and here to stay. It will not, however, doom the operating system.

At eWeek, Clint Boulton reports on Google CEO Eric Schmidt's treatment of the issue. It's a complex semantic exercise based on the nuances of the differences between "fragmentation" and "differentiation." It's a bit difficult to follow, but the two terms seem to be more or less synonymous. What's more important is whether what seems to be Schmidt's verbal gymnastics signifies some level of denial on Google's part that there is an issue with which to deal. Whether it is a major challenge - as Hansberry and Kindel suggest - or a minor one as portrayed in the Localytics report, the key is that it shouldn't be ignored.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 4, 2012 12:04 PM Ron Ron  says:

Here's another article that discusses the issue at length.

Feb 11, 2012 10:00 AM symbolset symbolset  says:

It's hard to believe they got three years out of the "fragmentation" myth.  Android is moving hundreds of millions of unit sales per year, giving an immense installed base for any developer to target into.  Some developers perfer to do bare metal code and target a subset, delivering high quality expensive apps for Tegra only, for example - and still have a vast potential market for their app to become profitable in.

It's not an issue, and it never was.  It was just something to complain about, by people grasping for any reason to complain they could find.  It turns out it didn't work, thank goodness.


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