Voices of dissent emerge over Android's future

Fragmentation: Android’s biggest obstacle?

Chris Mayer

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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