Android Honeycomb Fragmentation Combatted with Compatibility Tool

Google built a software kit to help applications running various versions of Android run on the company's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system build.

Google's Android development team released software that will allow applications that run with its Android 1.6 and later operating system versions to leverage the company's Fragments technology to create user interfaces that work with tablets.

This Android Compatibility Package is available now through the SDK Updater, Google developer advocate Tim Bray said in a brief blog post March 3.

Google last month released its Fragments API to help developers write applications that could mold to various screen sizes, particularly tablets running its Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" OS build, such as the Motorola Xoom.

Android developers may combine multiple Android fragments in a single activity to build, for example, a multi-pane user interface such as the one Google created its Gmail application for Honeycomb.

One glaring shortfall of the API was that it did not suit developers whose applications were written with earlier versions of Android in mind.

This is problematic at a time when devices exist that have multiple versions of Android. According to the Android Device Dashboard, Android 1.5 is running on 3.9 percent of smartphones and Android 1.6 is powering 6.3 percent of Android mobile devices.

Android 2.1 (31.4 percent), Android 2.2 (57.6 percent) and Android 2.3 (0.8 percent) round out the list. Android 3.0, designed specifically for tablets, is not yet part of the dashboard.

The problems with the multiple builds are that carriers are slow to upgrade to the latest Android builds and that applications can break between older and newer builds.

Google, for example, released several applications for Android 2.0 smartphones in 2009 that had to be specially ported to earlier Android versions.

This makes both development and usability difficult for some smartphones. Google's Android Compatibility package, leveraging the Fragments API, should ameliorate the issue for tablets.