Devs now have over 18,000 different Android devices to tweak apps for

Devs now have over 18,000 different Android devices to tweak apps for

Summary: The number of unique Android devices in use today has ballooned to 18,700.

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2014-08-22 11.08.28 am
Android device fragmentation. Image: OpenSignal

App developers now have 18,796 different Android devices to consider if they want to optimise their apps for each possible configuration, according to a new survey from OpenSignal.

Google might be making headway on reducing the challenges of operating system fragmentation, but one thing it has little control over is device fragmentation — which includes handsets' various screen sizes, which sensors a device has onboard, and different performance levels.

This type of fragmentation, in addition to the different versions Android that power handsets, has been one of the reasons why developers have built for iOS first, where they need to cater to just four different screen sizes and generally can rely on the bulk of users being on the most recent OS. Still, with Android being the dominant OS when it comes to market share, developers can't ignore it.

OpenSignal, which produces reports on the quality of mobile data networks around the world, has also been keeping a tab on Android device fragmentation, surveying hundreds of thousands of devices that have its app installed to track each model and their different screen sizes.

In last year's survey of 682,000 handsets, it found 11,868 separate device configurations, up on its 2012 count of just 3,997. This year, surveying the same number of devices, it found nearly 7,000 more devices, meaning that in theory developers need to consider 18,769 devices if they want to ensure their product is optimised for each of them.

While developers are unlikely to check every device, they can, say, pick the 10 most popular devices to test their apps against. But the rise in Android device types means that testing those top devices will only represent about 15 percent of the market, compared to last year when the top 10 represented 21 percent.

Samsung of course continues to dominate Android sales and, according to OpenSignal, is behind 12 of the 13 most popular devices. However, its 43 percent share of the market has declined from 47.5 percent last year, and Sony is now ranking second with a 4.8 percent share.

While Google is addressing Android fragmentation through Google Play Services and moving key Google apps to being handled through its Play app store, according to OpenSignal, the Android operating system is "the most fragmented it has ever been".

Google publishes its own Android version distribution numbers each month, highlighting the popularity of each OS. In August, KitKat Android 4.4 was running 21 percent of devices with Google Play installed, with just over half of all Android devices remaining on Jelly Bean. It also highlighted seven versions of the OS with more than 0.1 percent distribution.

One figure Google hasn’t yet published though is the breakdown between different versions of KitKat, from 4.4.1 to the latest update 4.4.4. OpenSignal factors in all three versions, showing that there are in fact 19 individual versions of Android currently running on devices.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Smartphones

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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13 comments
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  • Use cloud-service to test your app

    Excellent post, thanks! Despite this number of different configurations sounds harsh, however, there are an option for mobile app and game developers to test their apps on those device configurations. For example, Testdroid Cloud at www.testdroid.com provides an instant access to over 350+ real Android and iOS devices that gathered from global markets and represent over 95% Android/100% iOS volumes.
    vhe78
  • And this is a problem because ....

    Only lazy / incompetent / stupid devs have a problem developing for Android; if they can't cope, they need to move over and make room for people who know what they're doing.

    The headline is misleading to the point of dishonesty, suggesting that the author is a w*nk*r - or just plain ignorant; you choose.
    Heenan73
    • Amazingly

      Amazingly enough, personal attacks do not change any facts.
      Buster Friendly
      • The headline *is* misleading.

        If my app doesn't use a camera, then I don't have to "tweak" the app for tablets with/without cameras, etc., etc., etc. Do you really think that some app that runs on virtually all tablets (e.g.: Angry Birds) had to be tweaked 18,000+ times?
        nfordzdn
  • Developing for 18000 devices.

    Developing applications for windows machines is hard, because the code needs to be optimized for every single Windows machine out there.... This statement is not true. A similar statement for Android also isn't true.
    Sacr
    • Not to mention...

      when's the last time you swapped out the video card, or the sound card, or the network card on your phone?

      Not only are there thousands of different models of Windows machines out there, but even withing the same model you'll find machines running different internals because the user upgraded the machine.

      If fragmentation were the end of the world, we'd all be running Apple II's, Commodore 64's and IBM PC XT's.
      dsf3g
    • 18,000 devices to take care of is not a problem?

      If that is indeed the case then no matter what OS you use, what screen size is used, mobile or desktop, what platform you use people the "one size fits all"? Fascinating suggestion. I personally use nearly 100 apps and happy to know that everyone else in Windows or Android have the same comfort zone that I have and that Devs in those platforms are making a good living.
      franklinloehde
  • Or you can buy Apple

    Where you have no choice and no flexibility, for a premium price.
    dilettante
    • And...

      ... premium revenues!
      Gr8Music
      • re:

        Not for developers.
        Sir Name
  • OS versions are the hard part

    The large variety of OS versions with no update options are the hard part. You can't just say "update to xxx" to run this because many people can't update.
    Buster Friendly
  • Liam Please, Stop With The Fragmentation Boogeyman

    The majority of Android apps out there work just fine on a bunch of devices. The key is the Android version you are running. This isn't much different from the last 30+ years of desktop machines. If you were complaining that Office 2003 didn't run on Win98, everyone would think you were crazy. Yet somehow it is expected that every app be tested and tweaked against every possible device running every possible build. Should the devs go out and tweak against every incarnation of "BoB"s Narcoleptic Hyper Powered Crowd Control AOSP build too, just so the root crowd isn't inconvenienced? I know Apple loves to cry Fragmentation, but after nearly 6 years on Android, it really isn't an issue.
    revspaminator
    • One difference

      One difference is on the desktop OS is supported for 10 years or more. You might find you can't get upgrades for your android phone after a year.
      Buster Friendly