The sorry state of Android hardware fragmentation

The sorry state of Android hardware fragmentation

Summary: There's a bigger problem facing Android, and one that has an even greater negative effect on developers than operating system fragmentation: device fragmentation.

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When we talk about Android fragmentation, as a rule we're talking about the shocking number of operating system versions that are in use at any one time, and how users are slow - not through their own fault - to adopt the latest and greatest release.

But there's a bigger problem facing Android, and one that has an even greater negative effect on developers than operating system fragmentation - device fragmentation.

How bad is the problem? Here's a conversation on Twitter between Natalia Luckyanova, co-founder of indie iPhone development company Imangi, and David Smith, an independent iPhone developer:

Speaking to The Next Web, Smith outlines the top six Android devices running his Audiobooks and Audiobooks Free apps based on 1.3 million downloads:

  • Droid X (7.8 percent of users)
  • Samsung Galaxy S2 (4.3 percent)
  • Droid (4 percent)
  • HTC Desire HD (4 percent)
  • HTC Evo 4G (3.7 percent)
  • Droid incredible (2.3 percent)

Remember, these are the top six devices out of a total of 1,443. Factor in the Android version that these devices are running, Smith says that half of the users are running Android 2.3.3 and then the rest are on versions ranging from 1.6 to 4.0.3. No developer can be expected to support hundreds of devices running a variety of aging platforms.

By comparison, with 8 to 10 different iOS devices, Smith says he can cover 100 percent of iOS users. To do the same with Android he would need thousands of test devices, and then test the software across all devices and platforms - an impossible task.

The Android fragmentation is seriously affecting developers. It's bumping up support costs and low reviews for the app from dissatisfied customers. Unhappy customers posting negative reviews because of hardware compatibility issues can be lethal for an app, even when the developer is not to blame for the problem.

Google may be seeing 850,000 new Android device activations per day but it seems that these are primarily devices running older releases of the Android platform. It's also likely that adoption of Android 4.0 is being slowed because handset makers, and carriers are painfully slow getting the update out to customers with handsets that can run it.

This, in turn, is harming Android developers. And these Android developers are the folks who build the ecosystem and give people a reason to embrace the platform.

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Topics: Apps, Hardware, Mobility, Software Development

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108 comments
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  • It's beginning...

    To happen on Windows Phone as well. :(
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • You are soo wrong

      I do not think the fragmaentation is going to be like that on Android, since Microsoft is controlling what hardware you can use.
      schultzycom
      • Microsoft learned its lesson with Windows Mobile

        Much tighter control, more of a vision provided for WP7.

        Still can't get the carriers completely on board.
        Info-Dave
  • Read The Same Story

    here last week.
    I still don't see masses of Android users giving them up and Android sales are still climbing.
    cHarley1200
    • Unfortunately,

      most Android users are unaware of this issue until they've already purchased their phone. Android sales are climbing because there are over 500+ phones that are given away for free every day.
      kstap
      • Uh-huh...yeah...

        And if they just listened to Steve Ballmer they would see the light. Right? ;)
        ScorpioBlack
      • Bingo for Kris!!

        You hit the nail on the head Kris.
        Most of us Android users are doing so because of the cheap price, or it's the best option our carrier offers. I really am not aware of too many folks who choose Android over a comparatively priced valid alternative.
        camcost@...
      • Interesting..

        I have a total of 5 Android devices in my household and I am STILL unaware of this non-issue. :)
        PolymorphicNinja
    • Most consumers don't care.

      Most andoroid users are buying a phone...not a smartphone. Of that 850,000/day I wonder how many are moms and pops who don't give a crap about apps. Grnadma and grandpops probably dont even know they can run apps.
      I saw a salesman selling an old lady a crappy LG Android phone the other day and she seemed more impressed by the pink plastic casing than the actual phone features...I doubt the salesman even mentioned Andoird and apps.
      global.philosopher
      • True at least for some.

        Not too far from the mark. I once met someone with an Sony Xperia Mini (Android device) who didn't know it had a browser.
        spacespeed@...
      • Exactly

        That's the point of Android. Not everyone needs a smartphone or the same phone as Apple would have you believe.

        BTW, many of the phones are the same model just different branding. I have a Dell Streak 5" that is almost two years old running Android 2.2 and it's great. Have more than enough apps on it both free and paid. In fact just downloaded Temple Run (newly released free game) on it and been playing it with no issues whatsoever. I know I can't run ICS on it, but that's fine. In a couple of months I'll be ready to buy a new device and it will have ICS on it.

        You and the author don't realize that Android users don't subscribe to having to have the latest and greatest if what you have works fine for you currently. We are not NEOPHILES and proud of it!
        mrxxxman
      • Oh the hypocrisy

        @mrxxxman Funny how you say this now... [i]You and the author don't realize that Android users don't subscribe to having to have the latest and greatest if what you have works fine for you currently.[/i] ...yet how many times have we seen you go on and one about this phone or that phone has some new or upgrade spec that the iPhone doesn't have. You can't pick and choose when you think bleeding edge is important or not.

        Of course you open with... [i]Not everyone needs a smartphone or the same phone as Apple would have you believe.[/i] ...showing you have no clue. Apple has never said that one phone fits everyone, they simply try to produce the best single phone to make the most people happy so they don't get bogged down like the rest dealing with numerous models.
        non-biased
  • Joe Average Six-Pack

    Joe Average doesn't care about these issues. Millions and millions of 'perfectly happy' users of Android contradict your story.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • There is nothing to contradict

      Android users which are happy use their devices for apps very little. Those who try to dig in apps even somewhat more deeply, get disappointed.
      DDERSSS
      • Bingo! This is why android app sales are so weak compared to ios

        android devs are now hating new releases instead of wanting them.
        Johnny Vegas
      • Hold on a second, didn't DTS just bring up the gold standard defense?

        See if you can spot the similarities:
        "iPhone sucks because it doesn't have a removable battery."
        Answer:
        "Joe Average doesn't care about these issues. Millions and millions of 'perfectly happy' users of iPhone contradict your story."

        And the followup:
        "iPhone users which are happy don't need removable batteries. Those who try to replace their batteries, get disappointed."

        Oh wait, but this case is totally different. Right.
        toddbottom3
      • Wait wait @toddbottom3...

        One moment @toddbottom3... Comparing iPhone removable battery to Android apps is a valid comparison.. So let's pursue this line of reasoning that you have created. Remember YOU created it...

        If battery is a concern then user has to plug in their device more often and then no concern. I guess this is happening...

        If apps are not a concern, then user is not installing apps! Or if they are installing apps they are simple in nature. Thus no concern... I guess this is happening.

        So lets go on further with this reasoning. If batteries are a concern, then people will buy Apple battery enhancers and indeed they do. If people are not installing apps, then what are they doing? Oh yeah just making phone calls, doing the odd surfing and that is about it.

        Notice the pattern? In the Apple example there are third parties that can create products that people want. In the Google example no matter how you slice it, it is not worth the effort to develop for... Thus Google is slitting its own throat as developers will just move on and not focus on Android... Thus in the end run Google phones will be used by people who don't spend money beyond the simple services they use and hence Android will become a "garbage" platform as half of the software will probably not work and nobody for fear of their software not working will want to buy software...
        serpentmage
      • @toddbottom3

        Get a Juice Pack if you need one. Get two or three. Why do you want to remove your battery. If it is broken get it fixed.

        Try getting a replacement battery for a 3 yr old handset. You'll be hard pressed. Who bothered buying second batteies for their Nokia feature phones I wonder.
        global.philosopher
      • ...

        The problem with your argument, @serpentmage, is that there are other apps for Android. Perhaps people are not finding some apps worthwhile, but that can't be generalized to the app market. A "battery enhancer" is a very specific product, designed to do one thing. An app isn't quite that simple.

        Also, @global.philosopher - there are reasons. It's not that hard anymore to find batteries for legacy phones. If the battery won't hold a charge anymore it's a lot easier to replace the battery of most Android phones than for any iPhone. Also, external packs tend to be a good bit pricier.
        spacespeed@...
      • @global.philosopher Removable Batteries

        Removable batteries allow you to swap and go when battery runs low. No need to wait for it to charge or lug around an external battery pack. Being able to charge spare batteries externally while using your phone unplugged is not an option for iphone users. I can't imagine travelling anywhere without spare batteries.
        warboat