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Google Copies Microsoft, Not Apple, To Fix Android Fragmentation

Summary:At its I/O conference today, Google made a move to help solve the much-discussed fragmentation of the Android mobile OS.

This is smart, and long overdue. Google said today that it will begin releasing an Android Platform Development Kit (PDK).

This will give Android device makers access to coming versions of Android 2-3 months before its official release.

As is well-documented, most Android devices are way behind. 65% today run Android 2.3 Gingerbread which, with the release of 4.1 JellyBean today, now lags 3 versions behind.

The PDK isn't a cure-all, but it will hopefully allow OEMs to release new smartphones and tablets running up-to-date versions of Android.

This will also help them update their older smartphones and tablets sooner, too (though there the mobile carriers remain bottlenecks).

How is this like Microsoft? With its open Windows hardware ecosystem, Microsoft also faces problems of fragmentation and also failure-to-upgrade. Indeed, Windows XP remains more popular than Windows 7, despite being more than a decade old (it was released in fall 2001).

That's not because PC makers are bad at releasing new hardware on the latest OS. They are actually quite good at that, due to all beta versions that Microsoft provides early, all of the testing support it offers, and all of the ecosystem marketing that Microsoft in general does.

No, the reason XP is still so popular is because enterprises still go out of their way to erase Windows 7 from a new PC and re-install XP, in order to make it easier to manage and to support old, XP-only software.

Releasing an Android PDK several months in advance is a small step towards replicating the Microsoft ecosystem model, something Google would probably only grudgingly admit to be doing.

Apple, by contrast, has no hardware partners. It hires contractors to help make hardware that it alone designs and sells. Thus, it doesn't need to give early access to iOS to third-party hardware makers. It does allow developers to get new versions of iOS 2-3 months before it is released to users of its iPhone or iPad, though. Fortunately, that's all the time that some developers need.

Google I/O-Mostly for Consumers

Google's major announcements at I/O - the Nexus Tablet, the Google Play, Project Glass - are all aimed primarily at winning consumers by beating Apple and Amazon.

But any reduction in Android fragmentation is a double win for enterprises. As noted above, enterprise IT hates fragmentation more than consumers because it adds work for them on the Mobile Device Management (MDM) side and also increases insecurity.

Because of the Consumerization of IT, though, Google's consumer-oriented moves also impact the enterprise. The $199 Nexus 7 tablet will quickly find its way into organizations via BYOD. Even if Amazon comes out with a $149 Kindle, as rumored, I think we'll see more Nexuses be more accepted inside companies because it will run a more standard, easy-to-manage version of Android than Amazon's tablet.

Looking forward a year or two, Google Glass could pioneer a better sort of tech tool for field service applications than the ruggedized laptops and tablets used today. It's $1,500 price tag, while high, doesn't look bad compared to pricey ruggedized gear. And when Glass actually becomes available to end users, as opposed to developers, its price will no doubt drop.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Android, Apple, Google, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Security, Smartphones

About

Eric Lai tracks the latest news and trends in enterprise mobility. A veteran tech journalist most recently covering enterprise software for Computerworld, Eric joined Sybase, an SAP company in April 2010. Eric's views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of SAP. This blog is sponsored by SAP.

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