Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

Summary: Make the users care about updates, and the people standing in the way of those updates will sit up and pay attention to things.

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TOPICS: Google
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Another day, another set of Android fragmentation stories. And while there's no doubt that there is wide fragmentation within the platform, and there's not real solution in sight, I'm starting to wonder if Google ever had a plan to prevent the platform for becoming a fragmented mess.

How bad's the problem? Jon Evans over on TechCrunch tells it like it is:

OS fragmentation, though, is an utter disaster. Ice Cream Sandwich is by all accounts very nice; but what good does that do app developers, when according to Google’s own stats, 30% of all Android devices are still running an OS that is 20 months old?

...

More than two-thirds of iOS users had upgraded to iOS 5 a mere three months after its release. Anyone out there think that Ice Cream Sandwich will crack the 20% mark on Google’s platform pie chart by March?

He then goes on to deliver the killer blow:

OS fragmentation is the single greatest problem Android faces, and it’s only going to get worse. Android’s massive success over the last year mean that there are now tens if not hundreds of millions of users whose handset manufacturers and carriers may or may not allow them to upgrade their OS someday; and the larger that number grows, the more loath app developers will become to turn their back on them. That unwillingness to use new features means Android apps will fall further and further behind their iOS equivalents, unless Google manages – via carrot, stick, or both – to coerce Android carriers and manufacturers to prioritize OS upgrades.

And that's the core problem with Android. While there's no doubt that consumers who've bought Android devices are being screwed out of updates that they deserve (the take up of Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' is pretty poor so far), the biggest risk from fragmentation is that developers will ignore new Android features an instead focus on supporting older but more mainstream feature sets. After all, developers want to hit the masses, not the fringes. Also, the more platforms developers have to support, the more testing work there is.

OK, so Android is fragmented, and it's a problem that Google doesn't seem willing to tackle. But the more I look at the Android platform and the associated ecosystem, it makes me wonder if Google ever had any plan (or for that matter intention) to control platform fragmentation.

But could Google have done anything to control fragmentation? Former Microsoftie (and now investor) Charlie Kindel thinks there no hope to curb fragmentation. In fact, he believes that most things will make it worse. I disagree with Kindel on this matter. He also believes that Google's current strategy amounts to little more that wishing that everyone will upgrade. On this point we are in total agreement.

I disagree with Kindel that that there's nothing that Google can do to at least try to discourage fragmentation. I believe that one of Google's strongest cards are Android users themselves. Look at how enthusiastic iPhone and iPad owners are about iOS updates. They're enthusiastic because Apple tells them why they should be enthusiastic about new updates. Compare this to Google's approach to Android customers. Google (or anyone else in the chain for that matter) doesn't seem to be doing much to get people fired up and enthusiastic about Android. In fact, it seems to me the only message being given to Android customers is 'buy another Android handset.'

I understand that Google isn't Apple and can't seem to sway the crowds in the same way, but it might start to help if the search giant seemed to care about the OS. The absence of enthusiasm make the seem Sphinx-like and uncaring. Why should anyone care about new Android updates when Google itself doesn't really seem all that excited? If Google created a real demand for Android updates from the end users, this would put put pressure on the handset makers and the carriers to get updates in a timely fashion to users.

Make the users care about updates, and the people standing in the way of those updates will sit up and pay attention to things.

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Topic: Google

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  • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

    Jon Evans is full of it! Like Google said, there's only a problem with Fragmentation if Apps don't run on some handsets but that is clearly not what is happening is it?

    Apps built for a phone pretty much run on any Android Phone and you guys keep making this stuff up to stir the pot.

    Why don't you go write about how Apple abandoned their iPhone and iPhone 3G users with iOS 5? I mean crud, there's more of a chance that you'll find Apps that don't run on those phones than you will on any Android Handset Period!
    slickjim
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      @Peter Perry

      >> Apps built for a phone pretty much run on any Android Phone and you guys keep making this stuff up to stir the pot.

      I think the author clearly mentioned the problem with that.

      "the biggest risk from fragmentation is that developers will ignore new Android features an instead focus on supporting older but more mainstream feature sets."

      You get the issue ? Google built this nice new version of OS with great features, and developers ignore those feature because they want their app to run on pretty much any Android Phone.
      mKind
      • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

        @mKind
        I might go along with you if the 'new features' would work on older Android devices but the simple fact is the most *new* Android features rely on the newer hardware of the newer devices so can't be back-ported in any case. This is why, for the vast majority of apps, unless you're going to really push the hardware, even to the developer, the OS version (until ICS at least) is mostly irrelevant.

        95% of apps are little more than websites in a wrapper (same as iPhone). The only major areas where the version does make a difference is games and audio (as is evident by lack of good titles on Android).
        I don't believe fragmentation is anywhere near a big a problem as all these (probably iPhone owning) tech bloggers seem to make out.

        I would also suggest, outside the tech blogging world, most people don't give two whoops if they're not on the latest version of the OS. I'd even wager most average people wouldn't even know what version their smartphone was running (iPhone or Android).

        The biggest problem with selling apps for Android is the marketplace which is still a minefield when looking for the right app. I know decent apps are out there but the Marketplace does not help with sorting out the superb from the poor.
        dale303
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      @Peter Perry Not true. Fragmanetation is a problem if developers must outlay too much time/effort for little return. iOS offers the whole market to the develop and the developer only has to develop one App (Universal Apps run on both iPad and iPhone).
      Fragmentation is a developers problem which in turn ends up being a consumers problem because Apps are ugly, hobbled or non-existent.
      global.philosopher
      • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

        @global.philosopher iOS offers the whole market at the cost of not too many significant features added to later versions, and not too many features to begin with.
        a_flj_
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      @Peter Perry Yeah...and MS abandoned 286 users...etc, etc. iPhones are supported a lot longer than any Android handset...even the original Nexus has dropped off while the iPhone 3GS (a lot older than the Nexus) is still supported.
      global.philosopher
      • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

        @global.philosopher Right. That happens because it's easy - iOS evolves a lot slower than Android.
        a_flj_
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      "the biggest risk from fragmentation is that developers will ignore new Android features an instead focus on supporting older but more mainstream feature sets."

      Astro File Manager and ES File Explorer have Android 1.x and Android 2.x versions on the market. I doubt the old version is being updated much, if at all. I expect this to continue.

      Otherwise as Peter Perry points out, the days of apps not working on an Android phone are over. My phone is 2 years old and can run any smartphone Android app released for it. This wasn't the case if you had a phone on Android 1.x when 2.x came out.

      For me personally the problem is overrated. My HTC Desire runs Froyo, it's officially capable of running Gingerbread but I didn't bother. Is it going to officially get ICS? No. Do I care? No. It's a 2 year old phone. I'm not sure I'd want ICS if I could get it (okay I would like it) but more to the point I'm waiting for the 2012 ICS phones to come before trying out ICS. It will be on fresh new hardware then.

      My phone works perfectly fine running Froyo as it is. It's like putting Win7 on a PC that's really designed for XP. You may very well get it working but not at it's best.

      That said, you raise a strong case on how to improve Android updates. Make the average user care, not just the techies. So many non-techies care about iOS updates, this simply doesn't happen with Android and it should.

      p.s - A bigger problem is the Android Market. No one wants an iOS style vetting model but it's far to easy to let malware get on to the market.
      bradavon
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      @Peter Perry
      That simply tells that you are not a developer.
      Ram U
      • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

        @Rama.NET So lets hear your qualifications.
        radleym
    • Fragmentation

      @Peter Perry ... must be a buzz word from Microsoft that the TECH PRESS seems to want to beat to death.

      Well, given how much EXPERIENCE Microsoft has with DEFRAGGING ... maybe they can help. Lord knows a Windows computer with a FRAGMENTED DISK and ANTIVIRUS is basically a DOOR STOP.
      BrentRBrian
      • I see. What did Microsoft have to do with this article?

        @BrentRBrian
        Tim Cook
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      @Peter Perry +1
      a_flj_
  • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

    No. Google never has a plan for anything.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      @Loverock Davidson- They have a plan to mine your personal data!
      global.philosopher
      • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

        @global.philosopher Great, well reasoned argument and right on topic. Guys like you and Lovey make these forums such a pleasure to read!

        If only you had a fact, or even a clue!
        radleym
  • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

    There are three reasons why people on iOS devices upgrade, and Google was really in no position to do something to drive this kind of upgrade participation.

    First, Apple makes it easy and reminds them on a regular basis that they have an upgrade. The vast majority of iDevice users use iTunes to sync their phones and every time you plug it in, Apple will remind you that there is an upgrade that does all of these wonderful things that you don't have.

    Second, Apple has made those upgrades independent of the carriers and only has a single device manufacturer (i.e. no fragmentation) S if you have an iPhone in China or an iPhone in the US, you get the same firmware load. Google has allowed the carriers and handset companies to differentiate, thus they have to be responsible for driving the updates.

    Third, Apple FORCES upgrades on a lot of people. Once a new iOS release is out if you have to reinitialize your handset for any reason you can only do so with the latest version. So even though my iPhone 4 is happily running 4.3.3, if I have to restore it I can only load 5.0.1 on it. This is a bit of the control freak in Apple and is used as a way to keep the hackers at bay. Although I do know quite a few people who have 3GS phones that wish that they could go back to iOS 4.x because they are having issues, Apple won't allow that.

    Google needs an "iTunes" equivalent for their platform and a way to upgrade the OS and give all of the interesting new features that come along with it while maintaining the customization and unique things that the carriers and handset companies do. This would go a long wait to minimizing the fragmentation, but it won't be easy. Until then, even my "upgradeable" Nexus S will remain on Gingerbread....
    w_jackson
    • RE: Did Google ever have a plan to curb Android fragmentation?

      @w_jackson IMO, Google needs a repo like Debian/Ubuntu have one. Whoever desires (phone vendors/carriers included) puts its own packages in there, and everybody with the proper authorization updates packages on the fly.
      a_flj_
  • No they didnt. They dont care. They could have prevented it if they

    wanted to, but they didnt, because they dont care. They care about serving up ads. Period. You are not a customer to them you are just an ad viewer. If they can throw ads at you thats good enough for them.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Exactly

      @Johnny Vegas
      By not forcing individual carriers to upgrade Google gives these guys the incentives to adopt Android, and that's the only thing Google cares. They get more Ads exposure. The carriers get more freedom to customize it. Who cares about a few developer whiners? They are not generating enough revenue for Google to give a darn anyway.
      LBiege