Android fragmentation steers Vic Health

Fragmentation issues in Android were a key concern for the Victorian Department of Health when it came to designing its Better Health Channel app; so much so that the department has opted to design a web app for the platform, rather than going native.

Fragmentation issues in Android were a key concern for the Victorian Department of Health when it came to designing its Better Health Channel app; so much so that the department has opted to design a web app for the platform, rather than going native.

Better Health Channel's iOS app
(Credit: Victorian Department of Health)

The Better Health Channel has been running an online database since 1999, and now has over 2000 pages of health information that require constant quality assurance and maintenance from health professionals.

The rise in chronic disease and various negative lifestyle factors, like junk-food consumption, job stress and relationship breakdowns, are making the Better Health Service more important, according to Gerardine O'Sullivan of the Victorian Department of Health.

It was for these reasons that the department decided in 2011 to publish the information in app form, O'Sullivan said, speaking at this year's CeBIT conference.

She said that when developing the first version of the Better Health Channel app, the department had to make some tough platform decisions, including which mobile platforms it would create the app for.

The department decided that it would pursue native iOS development to start with, partly for its market dominance, but also because of concerns around the fragmentation of the Android operating system.

Fragmentation in the context of Android refers to manufacturers and carriers creating highly customised versions of Android smartphones that render native apps incompatible with some handsets.

A US developer recently demonstrated how bad the fragmentation problem is, saying that over 1000 different Android device versions have installed its app.

O'Sullivan said that by pursuing native iOS development over hybrid development for the Android operating system, it would "deliver a better user experience".

The first version of the iOS app was released in September 2011. Within a week, it became the most downloaded app in the Health section of the App Store, and it has recorded 69,000 downloads since then.

For many companies, the next step would be the development of an Android app, to reach the rest of the user base. However, as the department gathered its thoughts to design version two of the Better Health Channel app, it decided once again against native Android development.

The department will instead focus on deployment of a web-app version of the Better Health Channel for use by Android customers. O'Sullivan said that she expects it to land by July this year.

"We're getting there now. The idea is to be ubiquitous on all platforms, but we did have to cut our cloth for financial reasons initially," O'Sullivan told ZDNet Australia today.

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