Dan Morill

Android Deny Fragmentation Problems

Jessica Thornsby

Dan Morill has posted a blog denying that fragmentation is a serious issue for the Android platform; but what steps are Google taking to deal with fragmentation?

Android engineering team member Dan Morrill has posted a
blog dismissing the accusations of
fragmentation that have dogged the Android platform – according to
Morrill – from day one, quite literally.

“Before the close of business on the same day we announced
Android (4:46pm to be precise), I saw the first article about
Android “fragmentation,” he writes. To him, the main reason this
accusation has stuck, is because no-one ever defined what exactly
fragmentation was. Morrill lists several examples he has
encountered, which range from too many mobile operating systems, to
“locked down” devices. However, he has found a common factor to all
these definitions: they do not impact on whether an app can run or

“Because it means everything, it actually means nothing, so the
term is useless,” he summarises. He also states that, while devices
without the latest software might have problems running the latest
Android apps, Android is “100% forward compatible.” This means that
if an app works on an older version of the Android platform, it
should also run on all the newer version too. Developers have to
make the decision whether to embrace all the newest Android
features, or target older versions of the Android software, and be
exposed to a wider audience.

However, Morrill does admit that ensuring Android devices can
run all apps written with the Android SDK, is a challenge, as
different handsets may omit hardware that an app relies on, alter
the Android APIs, or simply let a few bugs slip in. All of these
factors can result in an Android app not running properly on an
Android device.

Google have taken steps to rectify this problem, and maintain
compatibility across Android devices. These measures include only
allowing compatible apps into the Android Market and launching the
Android compatibility program. This program consists of the Android
source code, the Compatibility Definition Document (CDD), and the
Compatibility Test Suite. The CDD lays down a blueprint of what is
expected of Android devices. For example, under the terms of the
CDD, developers are not allowed to alter the official Android APIs.
It is expected that the CDD will evolve to reflect the
ever-changing world of mobile development but, according to Morill,
Google also intends to reflect these changes in the Android APIs
and the Android Market, to help ensure continued compatibility.

Meanwhile, the Android compatibility program’s Compatibility
Test Suite consists of more than 20,000 test cases for identifying
and rectifying bugs.

But, how bad is the problem? Last month, Google released a
report revealing the percentage of different
versions of Android, currently installed on handsets. The report
showed a roughly even split between Android 1.5 (34.1%) Android 1.6
(28.0%) and Android 2.1 (37.2%) This prompted Ray Walters to comment “with this kind of
fragmentation it is almost as bad as developing for the web with
the many different browsers out there.”

Walters does have a point: fragmentation is a problem for both
Android app developers, and Google themselves who, in taking steps
to limit fragmentation, have acknowledged that fragmentation is a
potential problem for the Android platform. But, by comparing the
problems of different versions of Android, to the compatibility
problems posed by the many different browsers out there, Walters is
drawing attention to the fact that fragmentation isn’t just
Android’s problem. Perhaps, it’s just part of modern development,
whether it be for the web or for the mobile. Maybe fragmentation is
just something we’re all going to have to get used to.

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