Google's Android operating system is regularly blasted for fragmentation. It won't be mistaken for Apple iOS, but it might not be as bad as we originally thought.
Much of the negative conversation concerning Google's
(NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform is predicated on the fact that it's fragmented.
Specifically, the concern is that there too many
operating system builds spanning Android 2.0 to Android 4.0, too many devices
and handset makers clogging an already crowded mobile market.
While it's not common to hear Average Joe Consumer
complain about having too much choice, or even the occasional broken app that
works on one OS build but not the other, mobile app developers have expressed
concern about their ability to write for the platform and make money.
Yet Localytics in January collected data that shows
developers shouldn't be as concerned as we all thought. The mobile analytics
specialist said Android devices using applications with its analytics software have
many specifications in common.
For one, 73 percent of Android handsets tracked by
Localytics run Android 2.3 "Gingerbread," the penultimate platform.
That number should shift as more users buy phones based on the latest Android
4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" operating system. We certainly saw this trend
when Android 2.2 "Froyo," the OS leader for a good part of 2010, gave
way to Gingerbread. And yet, 23 percent of user sessions are still running
"Between the two, Android developers can be
confident that they only need to actively target two Android OS builds in order
to achieve 96 percent compatibility with the Android ecosystem,"Localytics concluded in a Feb. 1 blog post about its results.
To address the concern that Android developers should be
concerned about writing code to fit varying screen sizes and resolutions, Localytics
said 41 percent of all app sessions came from Android devices with 4.3 inch
screens, which include the Motorola Droid X lines, as well as the HTC
Thunderbolt and Samsung Droid Charge.
Next up were 4-inch screens at 22
percent. These models include the original Motorola Atrix and Samsung Galaxy S
line. Also, 800 x 480 pixels accounted for 62 percent of resolution specs, per
"For both screen size and resolution, Android
developers have more to deal with than iOS developers, thanks to Apple's single
handset form factor," Localytics noted. "However, with five options
accounting for more than 90% of all Android app usage, the fragmentation is not
Moreover, the analytics firm said Android tablets showed
similar patterns, with nearly three quarters of all Android tablet usage from
devices with the same specs, including the popular Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle
Fire, Barnes and Noble's Nook e-reader and Samsung Galaxy Tab. Most of the
Android tablets run either Gingerbread (71 percent), or "Honeycomb"
Localytics' point is that while fragmentation exists in
Android where it may not for iOS development, it's not as serious as people
have made it out to be. Perhaps this is true, and Ice Cream Sandwich will help
fuse the fork Google created by splitting smartphone and tablets into two
distinct branches a year ago this month.
But it still doesn't
ameliorate the fact the handset OEMs and
carriers decide what OS version goes on their handsets and tablets and that app
developers have to write several versions of their app to work on different devices.
Worse is that OEMs and carriers withhold OS upgrades when
they're available. While it's understandable that carriers and OEMs wait to
push out OS upgrades until they've been properly tested, it still can lead to
Such as when friends with Android phones made by
different OEMs served by the same carrier realize one has a fresher OS build
than the other. Awkward.