If Google is really planning to roll out a version of Android that mitigates the gross fragmentation issue among smartphones based on that operating system, the company is keeping it to itself.
Google declined to comment on a report from Engadget that it was considering a move to make applications and components normally integrated on Android smartphones available through Android Market for users to download at will.
Android, while praised for being open source, has weathered criticism because there are have been a handful of versions of the platform released in just a few short years. Consumers can go to Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile stores and Google’s own Web store to find devices based on Android OS versions 1.5, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.1.
Choice is good in any free market. However, building applications and hardware without uniform interoperability is a risky venture. While Apple controls everything on its iPhone, Android’s open-source provenance lends itself to decisions based on several criteria, including hardware manufacturer, carrier, region and customized software.
The fragmentation issue surfaced with the advent of some Google applications. Google received plenty grief over releasing applications such as Google Maps Navigation for Android 2.0, which first worked only on the Motorola Droid, before Google made it compatible with Android 1.6 devices such as Motorola’s Cliq and Devour smartphones.
Android phone owners went through a similar period of exasperation earlier in March when Google released Gesture Search first for devices running Android 2.0 and up, then for Android 1.6. If there is a theme, it is one of consistent frustration.
Engadget has heard that Google is planning a salve for these wounds, beginning with the Android version code-named Froyo and continuing through “Gingerbread.”
“We’ve been given reason to believe that the company will start by decoupling many of Android’s standard applications and components from the platform’s core and making them downloadable and updatable through the Market, much the same as they’ve already done with Maps,” Engadget said March 29.
With applications available through Android Market, users won’t have to wait for smartphone makers and carriers to push out staggered upgrades to devices. See the latest debacle over Verizon and Motorola trying to push Android 2.1 to the Droid.
While a Google spokesperson said the company would not comment on unreleased products, Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin told eWEEK that if Google did decouple applications in this vein it would be a tacit acknowledgment that Android has become fragmented.
But it would be a welcome move. Golvin expects Android to blossom significantly in 2010, with smartphones, tablets and set-top boxes saturating the market.
However, this growth could be threatened if developers are increasingly frustrated by their inability to tap the complete market with an application without descending into version hell.
“That’s something that Google would have to address,” Golvin said, adding that while developers he has spoken with are comfortable with Android now, they fear the fragmentation may worsen.