Will fragmentation kill Android? There's money in fragmentation...

Will fragmentation kill Android? There's money in fragmentation...

Summary: The Android operating system is heading down a similar path to other standardization efforts, a fracturing into many versions. Here's why...


Antonio Rodriguez, a successful serial entrepreneur and now a VC, is very pessimistic about the future of Android.

In this post titled: Android as we know it will die in the next two years and what it means for you, he argues that the splintering of the Android market into many different versions will create an unsupportable multitude of operating systems and mobile hardware that will doom the operating system.

I used to think that, as with Linux and web services in the early part of last decade, Android was going to be the mortar for the Internet of post PC devices...

...three events in 2011 burned it and we're now holding on to a charred corpse that is quite different: an Android so splintered that it will make the glass on your Galaxy Nexus S2 Prime Pie dropped on concrete look like an ice skating rink.

The three events are: Google buying Motorola and thereby competing directly with all the handset manufacturers; Microsoft is able to get IP licensing fees from Android handset makers; and Kindle - a forked version of Android.

He says that the splintering of Android into many different versions will make it very difficult for developers to support them and that this will eventually kill Android, or at least kill the dream of Android becoming the "mortar" for the coming world of post-PC devices.

In many ways we've been here before: the development of Android is following a similar path to the development of Unix in the 1990s and the constantly failing struggle against fragmentation, and the consortia developing standard versions of Unix. And the reason Unix standardization efforts kept failing for so many years was because there were many companies which profited from the existence of a fractured computer market.

The problem with standards is that they make it easier for a large company to dominate a market because scale matters, whereas fragmented markets help defend the status quo.

Android is going to face the same issues, the same political and competitive obstacles that Unix, and other standardization efforts have faced in other markets -- fragmentation is an important objective for established companies. For example, Mr Rodriguez notes a conversation he had a year ago with the product head at a large US telco, "He told me that their ideal world was "5-10 platforms with 10-20% each.""

A splintered mobile handset world is great protection for incumbents. Take a look at what happened in PC markets where the single standards of Intel microprocessor technology, and Microsoft operating systems, sucked out the vast majority of the profits in that market. Intel and Microsoft maintain operating profit margins in the 60% and above level, while PC makers have to contend with razor-thin profit margins in the mid-single digits. That's why the US telco wants a splintered, fragmented market so it won't be commoditized by a duopoly such as Intel/Microsoft.

That's why mobile carriers have consistently rejected Intel and Microsoft's efforts to standardize their industry -- to avoid what happened in PC markets, to avoid becoming dumb bit carriers trying to survive on razor-thin margins.

This is why you can expect to see lots more splintering in the Android world. But Android won't die in two years time. That's because it has a vital role in maintaining a fractured mobile market.

For example, Intel is desperately trying to oust the ARM microprocessor architecture in mobile markets and the common wisdom is that this is a battle where ARM technology is simply better than Intel's and that all that Intel needs to do is make its Atom microprocessors more competitive on power consumption, etc.

But even if Atom were to be technically superior and cheaper than ARM, Intel would still likely fail simply because Atom fails the competitive strategy test of its potential customers. They are well aware of the lessons of the PC market: that standards benefit larger companies allowing them to aggregate the profits of the market as a whole, while fragmented markets support larger numbers of companies and protect their profit margins. The status quo always reacts in ways that protect itself.

And as we know from many examples in history, the status quo is notoriously difficult to change because there are so many with a common interest in protecting it that it seems as if they act in collusion. That group dynamic is very difficult to overturn.

Android won't die because it has found its role: to protect the diversity of mobile markets by making it easier to fragment those markets.

After all, you can't fragment the iOS market because Apple owns that, similarly for the other OSes. But with Android as an open source project, you can fork off many times, creating ever more fragmentation.

Topics: Microsoft, Android, Google, Hardware, Intel, Open Source, Operating Systems, Processors, Software

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  • "the coming world of post-PC devices"

    He who believes there's such thing as "post-PC" is misguided to begin with.
    • These guys get paid by Apple...

      @LBiege To post this dribble look at the Nielsen Wire report and Comscore. Only OS that is dying is iOS which is bleeding users to Android. I give iOS a generous 6 months but since it is already a dinosaur in technology being 3 years old that may be too generous. It is a 2 year ago trend. Apple usage is steadily going down and Samsung just blew past it because of Android. The negative articles just drive more tech users too Android. Negativity never works.<br><br>What would the site have to hype if they couldn't hype Apple? Especially after the consistent negative articles on Android. They probably are getting 75,000 unique users a month while Android Market is getting a stagger 20 million activations.
  • RE: Will fragmentation kill Android? There's money in fragmentation...

    Android may continue in its fragmented state but the Consumer Experience will suck!
    • It will be pretty crappy for developers as well.

      @jatbains But hey, Eric Scmidt said that in 6, er 5, months developers will be writing for Android before iOS. He just didn't say [i]which[/i] Android.
  • RE: Will fragmentation kill Android? There's money in fragmentation...

    That's (failing) capitalism at it's best. Android is fragmenting, because that's the only way to hinder total competition, which is against the very interest of every company bigger than the average. If every app would run on every device, users were able to switch seamlessly between them, thus, the biggest manufacturers would have to compete with even the smallest manufacturer - and of course they'd most likely lose out on their profit margins. The only way to prevent that is to fragment the platform, so they will only have to compete with their own devices, only withing their own ecosystem. There's still competition between ecosystems, but only the largest companies are the players there - and a switch between them is not easy anyway.
  • Step back just a little further, Mr. Foremski!

    As an Android, iOS, Linux, Unix, Windows, and Web developer, I would like to agree with the ideas that Mr. Foremski is trying to convey. Now, the extent of his correctness seems to be fairly dependent on the open source community. Now if Mr. Foremski has discovered how the open source community will alter the software it's given, I'd be more than intrigued.
    Android will survive... long after Google shuffles in line with Microsoft; the real question is, [i]how much longer until Google falls in line?[i] "Two years" seems like a rather probable time-frame to me. I'm more curious as to how Android will adapt to survive the Windows-like exploits that come along with these changes! For now, Android, as an entity of sorts, is a rather cohesive locale now that ICS is working coming around, and the open source community is eating it up.

    [q][quote]Me, I just don't care about proprietary software. It's not "evil" or "immoral," it just doesn't matter. I think that Open Source can do better, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is by working on Open Source, but it's not a crusade ??? it's just a superior way of working together and generating code.

    It's superior because it's a lot more fun and because it makes cooperation much easier (no silly NDA's or artificial barriers to innovation like in a proprietary setting), and I think Open Source is the right thing to do the same way I believe science is better than alchemy. Like science, Open Source allows people to build on a solid base of previous knowledge, without some silly hiding.

    But I don't think you need to think that alchemy is "evil." It's just pointless because you can obviously never do as well in a closed environment as you can with open scientific methods.[/quote]

    Torvalds, Linus (2007-03-19). The Torvalds Transcript: Why I 'Absolutely Love' GPL Version 2. Retrieved on 2008-12-31.[/q]

    [q]Android 4.0 brings a unified UI framework that lets developers create elegant, innovative apps for phones, tablets, and more. It includes all of the familiar Android 3.x interface elements and APIs ??? fragments, content loaders, Action Bar, rich notifications, resizable home screen widgets, and more ??? as well as new elements and APIs.

    For developers, the unified UI framework in Android 4.0 means new UI tools, consistent design practices, simplified code and resources, and streamlined development across the range of Android-powered devices.

  • "...with Android as an open source project, you can fork off many times..."

    Yeah. If Android forks itself into oblivion, it's OK by me. No loss.
  • RE: Will fragmentation kill Android? There's money in fragmentation...

    But ICS will end fragmentation ... and at the current rate (a whooping 0.6% so far), every Android device will be running ICS in only about 20 years. The current rate could slow a little bit, considering most of the new devices at CES are releasing with some flavor of Gingerbread or Honeycomb instead of ICS.
    I like coffee.