Voices of dissent emerge over Android's future

Fragmentation: Android’s biggest obstacle?

Chris Mayer
Android-Fragmentation

It may be prospering in terms of smartphone adoption but questions over the splintering of Android remain

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been the ideal
platform for Google to showcase some of the latest things in their
Android platform. We’ve seen visions for the future in smart
household applicances, from refrigators to televisions. We’ve seen
the announcement of the Intel/Motorola tie-up to push yet another
Android-powered platform. But this all seems like a convenient
smokescreen for the real issue within the Android ecosystem that
Google has to tackle – fragmentation.

It’s not exactly a new concern, with many prophesising an
Unix-like path for Android, failing to stave off the fragmentation
problems. Quite early on we did see a blogpost and news story
suggesting that Android’s biggest hurdle to overcome was indeed
fragmentation, and often the problem would be dismissed without
discussion. But have recent developments changed that?

Through the momentum created through Google’s aggressive assault
toward Android adoption, the updates have come thick and fast and
consequently, there are several versions co-existing in the same
market as many companies are unable to meet the short timeframes
instilled by Google. Alienation is not an option at such a critical
point in Android’s life cycle.

We can see that this is already beginning to manifest itself
with Google’s latest version called the Ice Cream Sandwich – not
enough people are willing to take the gamble on it just yet. Some
devices launched at CES are running the older versions, with a view
to update them in the future.

An interesting blogpost by Antonio Rodriguez,
entitled ‘Android as we know it will die in the next two
years and what it means for you’
 which discusses how this
problem will ultimately leave Android doomed; well in terms of the
ultimate mission for a common Android platform, accessible to the
developer and user.

He says 

I used to think that, as with Linux and web services in the
early part of last decade, Android was going to be the mortar for
the Internet of post PC devices…three events in 2011 burned it and
we’re now holding on to a charred corpse that is quite different:
an Android so splintered that it will make the glass on your Galaxy
Nexus S2 Prime Pie dropped on concrete look like an ice skating
rink.

The three events in question? Firstly, Google buying Motorola,
irritating the rest of the smartphone makers. Second
- Microsoft’s acquisition of IP licensing fees from Android
handset makers; and Amazon’s Kindle – a forking of an old Android
version that became wildly successful, when they want to promote
the next big thing.

This splintered mortar is already hindering Android’s further
development, and part of the reason for it being so prominent is
the proliferation Android has created in the four years since it
was launched. It will likely continue with the ascension still
occuring.

At CES, Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt was fairly
dimissive of the problem stating:

Differentiation is positive, fragmentation is negative

Differentiation means that you have a choice and the people who
are making the phones, they’re going to compete on their view of
innovation. They’re going to try and convince you that theirs is
better than somebody else.

We absolutely allow [manufacturers] to add or change the user
interface as long as they don’t break the apps. We see this as a
plus; [it] gives you far more choices

Perhaps Android’s forthcoming death has been greatly
exaggerated. Android will still be around, for sure, but in a
different guise to the one we have at this moment. Google would be
foolish to admit any shortcoming though.

As previously stated, this fragmentation argument isn’t a new
one, nor will it die down any time soon. What is clear are the
issues Android needs to address. Currently, many are unsure of what
application works on which device and to state that as a positive
thing is slightly problematic. To really maximise Android’s
potential, it needs sorting for the good of developers.

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