Android: Is it even a real platform?

Android: Is it even a real platform?

Summary: Android devices are so different and include so many variants of the system software it's not accurate to call Android a platform.

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TOPICS: Android, Google
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Talk about Android fragmentation and you kick off a rousing debate about whose fault it is, and even if it matters. Google has left the evolution of Android in so many hands there should be no surprise how fragmented it is.

Partners are free to release whatever they want, support the products however they want (if at all), and there is not even a requirement to make sure basic system functions are included. As a result Android has grown incredibly fast, but to call it a platform is now quite a stretch.

The inconsistent nature of Android as a platform is driven home by my colleague Jason Perlow in his recent anguished article detailing why he is leaving the "platform". Having discussed this situation with Jason many times and at length, he epitomizes the very problem with insisting that Android is a real platform.

Why does it matter if we call Android a platform? Because Google and industry analysts insist on lumping every device under the Android umbrella for reporting purposes. It looks better and sounds better if the Android numbers are huge, like a bazillion activations a day. The problem is this is not really accurate, as Android devices tend to have very little in common.

When you think of a platform, you expect the system itself to be uniform across the board. All devices should have the same internal security functions, and a consistent software version across the lot. Google has allowed Android to grow without control, almost like a mobile Wild West. Partners have done whatever they wish with the platform tools Google provides, and the result is a jumbled mess.

Many Android devices have so little in common with other devices they provide a totally different user experience. Why should those be lumped together and form a single platform? In my work I have evaluated many, many Android phones and tablets. I no longer have any expectation that device X will perform like device Y, because the system software is so different. It's like a crap shoot when comparing two devices supposedly running similar Android packages. Partners are changing everything.

At some point Google is going to have to take control over Android as a real platform. Users have the right to expect equal security and protection no matter what Android device they buy. They should be able to expect that system software on one device will be included on the one they buy. In other words if Google wants to benefit from an Android brand, or platform, it's time they begin to package it as one. Otherwise we may see lots of others like Jason abandon the potential in Android in favor of other real platforms.

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Topics: Android, Google

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54 comments
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  • I can see how it annoys people but....

    Its just the same as Windows PCs and Laptops have been for decades, Tech people (not Joe Public) only expect everything to work the same now because of Apples Approach with ios which don't get me wrong is a good thing. Again the majority of android users don't even know they are using it. Fragmentation only affects us gadget orientated people.
    jkwr
    • I agree

      If I ask someone "What version of Android are you running" I'm more likely to get a blank stare because they don't know what the hell I'm talking about than a real answer. To most people, if it does what they want it to, then it's fine. Hell, I'm still running 2.3.3 and I've got no problem with it. It's not like the new versions stole the features of the older ones and it's now a shell of its former self. It still does exactly what it did when I bought it, and I'm fine with that.
      Aerowind
      • What most people on sights like this don't understand

        is "features" in and of themselves do not a good product make It's way more than the individual tree to make up a great forest and while features are a part of the whole it is NOT the whole. I like my idevices not because of feature glut but rather it is a simple, clean device that I find very usable. "IF" I wish to addd more to it I have a whole host of Apps out there to choose from. Now as to regular updates and such if the device you have a the time meets your needs then you don't need such but I would suggest that bug fixes, speed improvement and security corrections might to even the happiest of user prove useful.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
      • What platform?

        @jkwr
        I've asked people what version of Windows they are running and gotten the blank stare. It's not realistic for readers of this blog to expect civilians to know or care what dot level version of Android their phone has. Some people care very much about that, but I am sure most phone users really don't.
        cwallen19803@...
    • Microsoft did take steps with Windows

      Windows PCs do have some control. Microsoft imposes conditions on partners who build Windows hardware on the amount of customisation they can do. That's why you don't get a new PC with the Aero theme replaced by HP, Lenovo or Samsung's own skin.

      When Windows 8 tablets go out they will have more conditions in their contracts to ensure the platform remains a consistent experience.
      AdrianJSClark
      • Remains a consistent experience.

        So true. I was never a big fan of the company but I have to give them credit for how they've managed all the various hardware/partners over the years. When a gen customer walks into the store to buy a "PC", that person will always know he/she is getting the latest Windows OS automatically installed. That's because of the strict guidelines Microsoft set fort to OEMs. Can't say the same about Google and Android.
        dave95.
    • Not totally true

      James wrote: "Many Android devices have so little in common with other devices they provide a totally different user experience." that is the problem for most of us.

      My wife and I use two totally different Android phones. Hers is pretty slick, mine is such a pain that you would swear we have two completely different OS running. I have never experienced so drastic a difference between devices with the same system running.

      Android tablets are far worse... Three of us in the office have buggy tablets but another has one that works fairly well. This is why it is documented that droid tablets have a high return rate.
      camcost@...
      • What phones

        What is your and what is your wife phones? What launcher do you use?
        Fri13
  • Platform???

    Good way to put an opinion out there but if you are going to use the arguments you do, then those have to apply to other "Platforms" such as Windows (Multiple versions, multiple hardware configurations), Linux "Multiple versions, Multiple vendors, Multiple hardware configurations) etc...

    The only semi-true "platform" is Apple's Mac, and even there you have multiple versions running around and multiple hardware configurations. Difference being is all of it is controlled real tightly by Apple.

    The truth is that Android, like Linux and Windows is an Operating System. Now if Google really cared about it, there would be a baseline set of functions and APIs that are standard across all current versions. The problem is current version. New devices and new versions of the OS come out so often it is tough to keep up. Add on that devices that are released just prior to a new version of Android take forever to get updated to the new version, and there is your recipe for the disaster Android is in right now.

    I am not a fan of Apple. I dislike how tight they have things, but they way they release a new OS yearly for their phones/tablets a new version of the phone/tablet yearly, and are profitable that way, shows that it can be done right. Motorola, HTC, Samsung could learn a thing or two from that way of doing it.
    mbkavka@...
    • Um, what?

      Windows is most definitely a Platform with a capitol P. I can run a great many programs on my Windows 7 PC that I ran on [i]Windows 3.0[/i] decades ago. Sure, MS innovates around the interface and continually adds and modernizes the OS, so it is not true that all windows devices are on the same version. But no-one, especially not Apple (OSX, anyone?) has done as good a job at maintaining a Platform as Microsoft has done.
      x I'm tc
      • Well, Windows Is a Platform

        I certainly agree that Windows is a platform. I wouldn't want to get carried away, though. There are certainly a number of Windows 3 apps, and probably even more Windows 95 and 98 apps that will not work properly on Windows 7. Still, they've done a pretty good job.

        Linux runs all the old applications from the beginning as long as you can come up with the dependencies. Open source applications tend to expect dependencies to be there, so if you find or have an old application, you may have to dig around to find its dependencies. I've never seen an old Linux executable that wouldn't work if you installed all the dependencies, but generally, you don't have to use old applications in Linux because new versions of the apps are likely available for free, so it doesn't get tested in this respect to the extent that Windows does.
        CFWhitman
      • Hah

        So then Linux wins NT and most Linux distribution wins any Windows because you can go and get programs from late 60's or early 70's and you can compile and run them.
        Heck, even most scripts works just fine if they does not use specific parameters what don't exist anymore.

        Microsoft is TERRIBLE company to maintain anything. Even their own gaming HARDWARE is broken right after you buy it, as they do not support them after new Windows release. You don't have drivers, only a propietary USB drivers what just happends to work only with older Windows release.

        How many buyer went grazy when they bought with big money Microsoft Sidewinder controlles (gamepads, wheels, joysticks etc) when Windows XP was coming to market in next year. Oh, suddenly you just had no working controller so you needed to go and buy a new one from competitor as you should have done in the first place.

        How about Microsoft Office, you couldn't even get earlier version documents opened correctly in newer version of Office if you used almost any other function than just your keyboard, space, tabs and very simple formating.

        When Microsoft's "Platform" is such a bad joke that they can not even support it them selfs, it isn't at all a valid argument point as proof that Windows is best (or great or good at all) Platform.

        How about printers XP -> Vista -> 7?
        3D cards XP -> Vista -> 7?
        Music cards XP -> Vista -> 7?
        WLAN dongles XP -> Vista -> 7?

        Such a terrible world when you can not use hardware what is just a few years old and has nothing physically wrong in it and would work perfectly fine with current environments. BUT, newer Windows just can not do it.

        This time, best hardware support is found in Linux. I have managed to throw to it almost anything, from old flatbed scanners to LPT printers. Most devices works just perfectly, some what demands a specific firmware what you can not find anywhere anymore are of course rendered useless.
        Fri13
  • Google CAN'T take control of Android

    The fact that it can be used by anyone, and customised to be whatever they like, is fundamentally what it was created to offer. It is the defining tenet of Android: Do whatever you want with it (as long as it displays our ads).

    What would you have Google say to all their OEM partners? "Starting Monday you can't add your own layer of pig lipstick onto any device that runs our FREE AND OPEN software?"

    Or tell the carriers to stop filling phones with their useless crapware? It's not just that they don't have the right to do that; they don't have the power either.

    It is simply never going to happen. It runs contrary to Android's entire reason for existing.

    The fact that the wheels would inevitably come off the Android wagon should be a surprise to no one. Do you think Perlow is the only former Android fan who's ready to jack it in?
    Englishmole
  • More Microsoft Drinking Kool-Aide

    James is just another Puppet for Microsoft...this is PRECISELY out of their playbook calling Android "fragmented"---WHO CARES??? I love my Android. It does EVERYTHING Windows Phone won't do. Up to and including allowing me to build my own desktop/customize as I wish. Microsoft won't allow this because they're still stuck in the MYOPIC days of the 20th century where they felt they OWNED the user experience.
    HA! Ballmer laughed when he heard IPhone was gonna be (at the time)--the most expensive handset ever sold. Then laughed how Google would monetize a "free platform"---Guess he's wrong on all counts...what precisely has he been right about with Windows Phone
    THE NEON BLUE/METRO INTERFACE? Yeah, I see just ton's of Executives carrying around an NEON BLUE phone....*PLEASE*---go drink more Kool-AIDE---Microsoft has failed...what 3-times now (including Kin)---this $100 Windows Phone will be the next COLOSSALfailure. Microsoft is simply irrelevant in the 21st Century.

    Don't you find it rather "telling" where the up/coming Generation (ie Zuck and crew)--don't even use MSFT tools in house and MSFT is a Minority partner? *LAUGHING*---they use Open source code and I'd bet everything I own (I'm absolutely POSITIVE)---they code using Linux OS, and probably 90% of the company is on a Linux Desktop. HILARIOUS!!! (even use "open source" Database. Simply because MSFT SQL could *NEVER* handle Trillion Page vies a day.

    "Microsoft, Your Grandfather's Software Company"
    2012WillGO2012
    • Zuck uses a Macbook Air

      http://www.edibleapple.com/2012/02/02/mark-zuckerberg-and-all-of-facebook-it-seems-are-mac-users/
      victorpanlilio@...
  • Android as a Platform

    You state:
    "When you think of a platform, you expect the system itself to be uniform across the board. All devices should have the same internal security functions, and a consistent software version across the lot. "

    Maybe I am wrong, but aren't you mixing metaphors or at the very least hardware vs software. If I used the same logic, I could state the same in relation to Microsoft various OS and the hardware it may be installed.
    In my opinion, the biggest issues working against Android are two things.
    1. Evolution/improvement at an avalanche rate
    2. Hardware vendors unwilling/unable to apply firmware updates to keep the devices both consistent and functional. This is due to in part to item #1
    Just over one year ago, Android was pretty much 2.2 and getting ready to release 2.3. That does not mean the Manufacturers were all using 2.2 either. There were still Android devices being sold as new stock using 1.6.
    I find the real issue is not whether it is a platform. It is the problem of No iron hand of functional oversight to the Hardware manufacturers. It harkens back to the bad old days of DOS and early Windows. I remember Data Generals attempt at remaking DOS and Windows to fit their idea and of course IBM and its divergent path for OS2.
    But that is just my opinion
    gurgle2u
  • James is working straight out of the MSFT Playbook "Fragmented"

    James is just another Puppet for Microsoft...this is PRECISELY out of their playbook calling Android "fragmented"---WHO CARES??? I love my Android. It does EVERYTHING Windows Phone won't do. Up to and including allowing me to build my own desktop/customize as I wish. Microsoft won't allow this because they're still stuck in the MYOPIC days of the 20th century where they felt they OWNED the user experience.
    HA! Ballmer laughed when he heard IPhone was gonna be (at the time)--the most expensive handset ever sold. Then laughed how Google would monetize a "free platform"---Guess he's wrong on all counts...what precisely has he been right about with Windows Phone
    THE NEON BLUE/METRO INTERFACE? Yeah, I see just ton's of Executives carrying around an NEON BLUE phone....*PLEASE*---go drink more Kool-AIDE---Microsoft has failed...what 3-times now (including Kin)---this $100 Windows Phone will be the next COLOSSALfailure. Microsoft is simply irrelevant in the 21st Century.

    Don't you find it rather "telling" where the up/coming Generation (ie Zuck and crew)--don't even use MSFT tools in house and MSFT is a Minority partner? *LAUGHING*---they use Open source code and I'd bet everything I own (I'm absolutely POSITIVE)---they code using Linux OS, and probably 90% of the company is on a Linux Desktop. HILARIOUS!!! (even use "open source" Database. Simply because MSFT SQL could *NEVER* handle Trillion Page vies a day.

    "Microsoft, Your Grandfather's Software Company"
    2012WillGO2012
  • Ironic?

    Don't you find it Ironic, Microsoft PATENT TROLLING---is more lucrative/is out pacing revenue for their Device sales? LAUGHABLE if you think Microsoft Windows Phone has a chance to rise above it's what 1%-2% share? They can't even muster up to snag share from SYMBIAN (which Nokia dumped---*someone* has to..my bet Anroid wins the race...with IPhone---a respectable...but not "large" chunk of that.

    Wait a Sec....every single Android device has the SAME user experience...the "GUTS" of the OS are EXACTLY alike...click settings...and it's the same as 2.1 or 4.x...where are you getting your "Fragmented" nonsense from?
    2012WillGO2012
  • Slow down James...

    Wait a Sec....every single Android device has the SAME user experience...the "GUTS" of the OS are EXACTLY alike...click settings...and it's the same as 2.1 or 4.x...where are you getting your "Fragmented" nonsense from?




    "Microsoft, Your Grandfather's Software Company"
    2012WillGO2012
  • Mobile News?

    James, you really need to change the name of this blog - "Android Bashing" would be much more appropriate as it seems that is all you do in it.
    NetAdmin1178