Android Fragmentation Not So Serious: Localytics

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 Froyo.

"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 app sessions.

"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 particularly daunting.

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" (21 percent).

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 awkward moments.

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.