Chipping Away at Android’s Fragmentation Problem

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    Android’s ride from nothing to the most used mobile operating system hasn’t all been smooth. Two overlapping issues that have dogged Android are security and fragmentation. The main security challenge stems from Google Play’s open environment. It’s relatively easy for malware to gain traction in the store and, consequently, on people’s devices.

    Fragmentation refers to the many versions of the Android OS and almost countless vendor-specific customizations, which cause the OS to evolve in a non-uniform manner. Numbers from Android culled from Google Play for the week ending on Monday show that the situation shows no signs of abating. Android names versions of its OS after sweets. For the first time, the most recent iteration of the OS, Lollipop (version 5.x), is in double figures, at 12.4 percent (11.6 percent for Lollipop 5.0 and 0.8 percent for version 5.1). KitKat, Version 4.4, remains the most utilized at 39.2 percent.

    That’s a lot of desserts. At Forbes, Ewan Spence writes that Android “is doing its best” to deal with fragmentation. As much as possible, he writes, Google is using the Google Play Services software stack to dispense over-the-air updates without the permission of manufacturers or network owners. He also writes that Google is ensuring that the Android One reference design stays up to date with Android releases.

    It is also providing developers with tools. Business Cloud News reports that Google used its I/O Conference last week to introduce a testing platform that is based on technology it acquired with last year’s purchase of Appurify. The platform enables developers to run applications on thousands of simulated Android-based devices. The platform creates crash logs that facilitate debugging. The resulting apps are more functional in a wider range of circumstances.

    Fragmentation goes beyond inconvenience and affects security. Indeed, it is one of the rationales behind Spence’s point that Google Play Services takes the update task out of the hands of third parties. Ricardo Trevizo noted the connection between security and fragmentation at Android Headlines:

    This is what Google is afraid of, most users are running versions of Android that haven’t been touched in years, this means that numerous important security updates were never sent out to these devices with outdated systems. It’s not Google’s sole fault, both manufacturers and carriers have a lot to do with the process of sending out updates; sometimes the firmware update sent out by Google gets stuck in the process of rolling out, whether it is in the manufacturer’s or in the carrier’s hands.

    The fragmentation issue, both in terms of inconvenience to users and security, is not going away. Indeed, at the conference, Google unveiled the prerelease version of Android M, the next version of the OS. It will be fully released later this year, according to Verge.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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