Android: I love you, but fragmentation is bringing me down

Android Analysis Fragmentation

I’ve been a pretty big fan of Android for a long time now. Having an open-source mobile operating system that different OEMs can experiment with and customize to their liking has been a huge boon to the tech world and has ensured that Apple (AAPL) won’t have a monopoly on popular smartphones anytime soon. But as Google (GOOG) has refined its operating system over the years and added some great new features, it’s become increasingly hard for me to ignore that fragmentation of the platform is a serious problem that hasn’t gotten any better.

Writing over at The Guardian, Charles Arthur notes that Android 2.3 Gingerbread is still by far the most widely-used version of Android in the world right now despite being released nearly two years ago. And to make matters worse, Arthur says that although three different versions of Android have been released since Gingerbread first arrived in late 2010, Gingerbread has been much slower to decline in use than previous outdated versions of the operating system.

“What that adds up to is that unless something changes quite dramatically in the next couple of months, Gingerbread will remain the dominant Android version for quite a while,” Arthur says. “It’s only losing a couple of percentage points per month, while [Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean] gain about the same. With a 30% gap between the old and the new variants, it could take another year before things changed.”

This is incredibly annoying, and it points to problems on Google’s end for a couple of reasons:

  • First, the big selling point of Ice Cream Sandwich was that it was designed to be the first version of Android to deliver the same experience across multiple form factors, from smartphones to tablets to “phablets,” thus reducing headaches for app developers worried that their app might look different on various screen sizes. Which is wonderful, but if you can’t get your grand unifying Android update out to a majority of Android devices in a timely fashion, then what’s the point?
  • Second, Google is having trouble getting the latest version of Android out to Motorola’s latest phones, despite the fact that Motorola is owned by Google. The Droid Razr M is one of the coolest new Android devices to hit the market this fall, but it shipped with Ice Cream Sandwich rather than Jelly Bean. The same goes for Motorola’s other two big-name devices launched last month, the Droid RAZR HD and Droid RAZR MAXX HD. If we can’t expect Google’s own mobile device manufacturing unit to consistently ship devices with the latest Android software, why should we expect it from any other manufacturer?

With both these things in mind, I was very relieved to learn that rumors of Google announcing Android 4.2 in the near future were indeed false. Before Google goes out and invents the next great thing for Android, it needs to figure out a way to get the current great things delivered more quickly to more smartphones. Because let’s face it: bragging about all the cool things Google Now can do for people won’t do a lick of good if most people are still stuck on Gingerbread.

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