Android: Is it even a real platform?

Summary:Android devices are so different and include so many variants of the system software it's not accurate to call Android a platform.

Talk about Android fragmentation and you kick off a rousing debate about whose fault it is, and even if it matters. Google has left the evolution of Android in so many hands there should be no surprise how fragmented it is.

Partners are free to release whatever they want, support the products however they want (if at all), and there is not even a requirement to make sure basic system functions are included. As a result Android has grown incredibly fast, but to call it a platform is now quite a stretch.

The inconsistent nature of Android as a platform is driven home by my colleague Jason Perlow in his recent anguished article detailing why he is leaving the "platform". Having discussed this situation with Jason many times and at length, he epitomizes the very problem with insisting that Android is a real platform.

Why does it matter if we call Android a platform? Because Google and industry analysts insist on lumping every device under the Android umbrella for reporting purposes. It looks better and sounds better if the Android numbers are huge, like a bazillion activations a day. The problem is this is not really accurate, as Android devices tend to have very little in common.

When you think of a platform, you expect the system itself to be uniform across the board. All devices should have the same internal security functions, and a consistent software version across the lot. Google has allowed Android to grow without control, almost like a mobile Wild West. Partners have done whatever they wish with the platform tools Google provides, and the result is a jumbled mess.

Many Android devices have so little in common with other devices they provide a totally different user experience. Why should those be lumped together and form a single platform? In my work I have evaluated many, many Android phones and tablets. I no longer have any expectation that device X will perform like device Y, because the system software is so different. It's like a crap shoot when comparing two devices supposedly running similar Android packages. Partners are changing everything.

At some point Google is going to have to take control over Android as a real platform. Users have the right to expect equal security and protection no matter what Android device they buy. They should be able to expect that system software on one device will be included on the one they buy. In other words if Google wants to benefit from an Android brand, or platform, it's time they begin to package it as one. Otherwise we may see lots of others like Jason abandon the potential in Android in favor of other real platforms.

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Topics: Android, Google

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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