On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

Summary: Google is trying to put fragmentation behind it by unifying smartphone and tablet operating systems and guaranteeing future compatibility for some devices. But on balance, Google's efforts still come up short compared to Apple.

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Google I/O, the developer conference in San Francisco, is in full swing this week. At a keynote presentation on Tuesday morning the company made several announcements aimed at stopping detractors who say that Android has become too fragmented.

Google said that it plans to unify Android operating systems - the "Gingerbread" version that now powers Android-based smartphones and the "Honeycomb" version now featured on tablets - into a single release code-named "Ice Cream Sandwich" that will be released sometime in the fourth calendar quarter of 2011.

Apple experienced similar growing pains with iOS - the iPhone saw iOS 4 long before the iPad did. The two devices ran different versions of the operating system until iOS 4.2's release in November, 2010 - seven months after the iPad's initial release. Assuming Google delivers on time, it will have a unified Android operating system available about a year after Apple unified iOS.

"Our goal with Ice Cream Sandwich is to deliver one operating system that works everywhere, regardless of device," writes Hugo Barra, Product Management Director, Android, in a new blog post, and that's a worthy goal. And as evidenced by Apple's experience, it can be done right.

But there's a big stumbling block in the way: the ugly spectre of fragmentation. Google now counts more than 310 Android devices on the market, running eight different major releases of Android.

It's a nightmare for developers to figure out what device is running which operating system and planning spec for their software accordingly. It's also a morass for consumers to wade through - they don't know if the handset they just bought will be upgradable with new features and capabilities that Google exposes in new Android releases.

To counter that, Google has announced a new program from participating companies to guarantee that new handsets will be compatible with new Android updates for 18 months after they're released, "as long as the hardware allows."

That's a pretty big if, from what I can see. What's more, that leaves absent from this the two and a half years' worth of customers who have already bought Android devices with no such future-proofing assurance.

When it comes to this compatibility issue, Google's leaving a lot of wiggle room both for itself and for its handset makers and carrier partners - the actual implementation is bound to create a lot of headaches for everyone involved.

Certainly, Apple users have seen some older handsets - particularly the original iPhone and its immediate successor, the iPhone 3G - drop off the radar for software upgrades and enhancements. But it's safe to say that the concept of fragmentation is practically alien to the Apple ecosystem, especially compared to the rampant compatibility issues and head-scratchers that pop up in the Android world.

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Topics: Android, Apple, Google, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software

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108 comments
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  • Yep, you hit the nail on the head. This is one area where Apple has a huge

    advantage by controlling both the hardware and the software, and releasing fewer models. On the other hand, with Android, nobody is controlling, and you get more variety, larger, smaller, higher end, lower end, with keyboard, without keyboard, etc, etc.
    DonnieBoy
    • At the same time, Android became "lowest common denominator" platform

      @DonnieBoy: starting from some super cheap and super slow hardware and 400x240 displays, almost no one cares to make software that near to iOS-consistency and quality.

      As to promises for timely and regular updates for 1.5 years, it has to be said that Apple delivers updates for 2.5 years. Also, it is not yet apparent indeed that 1.5 years of updates for Android are actually possible beyond PR: http://www.zdnet.com/tb/1-96994-1870295
      DDERSSS
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @denisrs
        I replied you and Droid 101 on that thread.
        Bottom line my new EVO 4G, Atrix 4G and Galaxy Tab can't get updated to Gingerbread and Icecream sandwich for sure even though their hardware is greatly capable of running the latest and the greatest Android versions. @Droid101 thinks that iPhone 3G can't run latest iOS, but iPhone 3G is more than 2 years old and OTOH none of the Android devices I own are not even a year old.
        Ram U
      • Well, Apple has an advantage here, but, it is not all bad on the Android

        side. You could say the same thing about the variety of Windows hardware out there, and that Windows has to play to "the lowest common denominator", but, we all know how much Microsoft has made off of Windows . . . .

        It is worse on the phone side because of the carriers and manufacturers, but, to be honest, there is a lot less expectation of being able to upgrade your phone OS.

        I think the Android model will be the most popular in the end, but, Apple will also make a lot of money.
        DonnieBoy
      • DonnieBoy, what you are witnessing today

        @denisrs
        is the paint hiding the cracks in Android falling off.

        They are desparate to correct the problems with fragmentation, but I fear they will rush it and be stuck with something worse.

        It is their way.
        :|
        Tim Cook
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @DonnieBoy <br>How Microsoft and Windows are responsible for Google's lack of control on Android? What Microsoft and Windows have to do with many Androids instead single experience? Do you think people are so lame to believe you and follow whatever you spin to protect your husband. Sheesh. Have you ever heard about HAL in your whole life? It is the one that works on Windows and if something is not fit into HAL, MSFT suggests you to not get into that. Now show me where is something to similar to that in Android? There is nothing. Google never really cared about minimum hardware specs for the platform and that is the problem. Carriers and makers are secondary but the main issue lies with Google.
        Ram U
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @denisrs If you're just gonna bash Android developers and say "No one cares to make good software" or that we refuse to, you're way off base. Personally, I just don't bother to support truly crappy hardware.
        snoop0x7b
      • EVO 4G

        @Rama.NET

        Not sure what you are talking about here. From what I have read on Sprint and other forums HTC will upgrade EVO 4G to 2.3 this year.

        This timeline is worse than for iPhone but better than for WP7.
        Solid Water
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @Solid Water
        >>This timeline is worse than for iPhone but better than for WP7.

        Can you back it up, please.
        EVO 4G released almost a year back, no update
        WP7 (I have three of them, HD7, Focus, LG Optomus) - all got latest NoDo and Post NoDo update within first 6 months of its release. So who is worse? Go ahead and bash me, but you can't cover up your fanboy rants and gripes. Sorry, please don't talk about a platform that you have no clue about.
        Ram U
    • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

      @DonnieBoy Watch the handset makers. What they'll do is put in fine print in the packaging "Compatiable with Android versions 1.X or 2.X? That way they do not have to push updates and they have met their "alliance" commitments. Remember, supporting older handsets does no pay the bills so why would Samsung (et al) put in more than token efforts. Past the sale they make no money. Apple (and RIM) continue to make money by supporting their old handsets so it is in their best interests to do so.
      global.philosopher
    • &quot;with Android, nobody is controlling&quot;

      @DonnieBoy
      Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "with Android, nobody is in control"?
      Userama
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @Userama No. It would be safe to say the USER is in control for the first time - troll.
        blueskip
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @blueskip<br><br>Really? You mean the user can uninstall all that crapware that came preloaded with their Android phone? And do so without breaking their agreement with the carrier? Shouldn't be a problem if the user is really in control correct?<br><br>http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/the-dirty-little-secret-about-google-android/38260?tag=mantle_skin;content
        dave95.
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @blueskip<br><br>Oh really? How did that Gingerbread reinstall on your phone go for you? How'd it go removing the carrier crapware?<br>Android is NOT open to end users. It is designed to be open to carriers ONLY. The idea that Android is open to end users is a blatant lie that only the truly daft believe.
        DeusXMachina
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @ DeusXMachina<br>Very well said. Open Source doesn't have to mean open platform for all. "Android is open platform" is blatant lie and marketing spin from Google and its partners. User can't remove crapware without forgoing the warranty. Period.
        Ram U
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @blueskip ignore them, they think because they're not smart enough to mod an android phone then nobody is.

        And they don't realize there's not much for crapware and removing it is as simple as deleting the app.
        slickjim
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @Petter Perry<br><br>You are misinformed as always. Not only does removing Carrier crapware often violate TOS, it is NOT deleted. It is simply reinitialized the next time you boot. <br><br>As for modding the interface, big deal. Who cares? I can mod my iPhone too. That is what you are clinging to, skinning the interface?!? Really?
        DeusXMachina
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @DeusExMachina dude you're high! I have yanked the stuff off my phone, it doesn't come back!

        Also, most of the stuff put on the phone are links to the App in the market and not the actual installed App!
        slickjim
      • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

        @DeusXMachina But you forget, jailbreaking an iPhone to get a feature was never good enough for all the Apple haters but rooting an Android device for some reason is appropriate and actually considered a feature by the Fandroids.
        non-biased
    • RE: On fragmentation, Google still comes up short against Apple

      @DonnieBoy And nobody is supporting you, updating you, or giving a shit what problems you have with your phone as long as you pay your cell bill.
      His_Shadow