Android fragmentation is a conspiracy cooked up by media and pundits, said Dan Morrill, open source and compatibility program manager for Google Android. Morrill noted that people who wrote about the supposed fragmentation problem for Android had different definitions for the term, rendering the description meaningless. Owners of older Android devices who can't access Google Maps Navigation, Google Gesture Search or Google Earth may disagree.
The use of the term "fragmentation" to describe Google's
Android operating system has no merit because people can't agree what the term
means, according to an Android developer.
In a June 1 post on the Android developer's blog, Dan
Morrill, open source and compatibility program manager for Google Android, said
he remembered first seeing the "F-word" in stories shortly after Android
Vice President of Engineering Andy Rubin and Google CEO Eric Schmidt unveiled
Android on Nov. 5, 2007.
Morrill noted that people who wrote about the supposed
fragmentation problem for Android had different definitions for the term.
For example, he noted that some people use it to describe
that Google pumps out too many operating systems, while others claim it refers to
optional APIs causing inconsistent platform implementations. Others use it to
describe "locked down" devices, or the existence of multiple versions
of the software at the same time.
"Because it means everything, it actually means
nothing, so the term is useless,"
. "Stories on 'fragmentation' are dramatic and
they drive traffic to pundits' blogs, but they have little to do with reality. 'Fragmentation'
is a bogeyman, a red herring, a story you tell to frighten junior developers.
While Morrill's position accurately reflects that of the
company to date, there are signs the company has had trouble keeping Android up
to par with its own applications.
Google has had to
to adapt applications
such as Google Maps Navigation and Google Gesture
Search to work on Android 1.6 devices, in addition to the Android 2.0 or later builds they were initially created for.
Google Earth for Android works on Android 2.1 devices and later
So there are certainly compatibility issues in adapting Google
applications for earlier versions of Android, such as 1.5 and 1.6. With each
new version of Android -- Google is on Android 2.2, the Froyo build, now -- an
older model gets shunted to the back of the line.
Morrill, who said Google defines "Android
compatibility" as the ability of a device to properly run apps written
with the Android SDK, addressed this issue in his post:
"While it's true that devices without the latest
software can't run some of the latest apps, Android is 100 percent
forward-compatible - apps written properly for older versions also run
on the newest
The choice is in app developers' hands as to whether they want to
live on the bleeding edge for the flashiest features, or stay on older versions
for the largest possible audience. And in the long term, as the mobile industry
gets more accustomed to the idea of upgradeable phone software, more and more
devices will be upgraded. Morrill's position makes sense, but it may be of little
comfort to owners of the Android 1.6-based HTC Droid Eris, or the Motorola Cliq
and Backflip, which run Android 1.5. Owners of those phones have to wait until
apps built for Android 2.0 or newer get ported to their smartphones.
And where there are consumers who can't access apps
because they're running an older OS, there's bound to be allegations of
fragmentation. The Technologizer puts a fine point on the issue in this post
Google is unbowed by this, even as it is aware of the
issues. Android head Rubin
told the San Jose Mercury News
"Our product cycle is now, basically twice a year,
and it will probably end up being once a year when things start settling down,
because a platform that's moving - it's hard for developers to keep up. I want
developers to basically leverage the innovation. I don't want developers to
have to predict the innovation."