Four big challenges facing Android

Four big challenges facing Android

Summary: Scratch beneath the surface of the Android ecosystem a little and you start realizing that there are some huge challenges facing the platform, and if left unchecked will will weaken the operating system's grip down the line.

TOPICS: Mobility, Android

Things might seem rosy in the Android camp. After all, it commands some three quarters of the global shipment market share, and Google is seeing some 1.5 million new devices activated daily.

All seems good, right? Maybe not.

Scratch beneath the surface a little and you start realizing that there are some huge challenges facing the platform, and if left unchecked will weaken the operating system's grip down the line.

So, what are these problems?

Heavy reliance on Samsung to do the hard part of selling devices

It's important to note that Android isn't a commercial entity, but is instead a platform. Bankrolling Android is Google, but the company that is most pivotal in getting Android-powered devices into the hands of consumers – home and business – is Samsung.

Samsung has successfully embraced Android, but it's taken a "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach, coming out with countless variation on the smartphone and tablet theme.

While this is good for Samsung, for Android as a whole it's not so good because the platform could benefit from greater diversity.


I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Fragmentation is a big problem for Android.

Whenever I mention this people always whine at me that I'm "picking on Android" or that I'm "just an Apple fanboy" or that "Apple has the same problem."

These are lame excuses. Anyone who thinks that having a situation where a third of all Android devices running Android 4.1.x – a version that was first released in July 2012 and saw its last update released in October 2012 – is a good thing is burying their head in the sand. It's not good. It's frankly appalling, and leaves tens, if not hundreds or millions of Android users

Google needs to get a grip on this problem, either by making hardware makers and carriers take the problem seriously, or by pushing updates direct to users.

Forked Android

We can break Android down into two parts. The first is Google Android, which is the official version that is bound to Google services and uses the Google Play store for apps. The second is forked Android, which consists of devices which run a version of android that's been forked from the main tree. Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets fall into this category, along with all the other unofficial Android devices.

The problem with the growth of forked Android devices – and data suggests that these devices represent quite a chunk of the Android devices out there – is that it introduces more fragmentation into an already fragmented ecosystem.

Losing the enterprise battle

With Apple and IBM announcing an alliance which to put Apple mobile products with IBM software into the enterprise, this leaves Android in a position where it's being dealt out of the game. Sure, this is also bad news for Microsoft's mobile ambitions too, but Android is the platform taking the biggest hit from this.

Google needs to have a serious think about how this alliance came about, and how its mobile platform got left behind.

Users don't want to spend money

iOS owners spend four times more than their Android counterparts do. There are a number of reasons why:

  • Android is dominant in low-income countries.

  • Users don't have credit cards and Google has been slow to adopt carrier billing.

  • Android handsets are cheaper than iPhones, and so people who are willing spend more choose iPhone.

  • Apple is offering something that users want and as a result are willing to spend more.

  • Developers are attracted to iOS because of increased revenue, and this means there's less for Android users to spend money on.

The bottom line is that Android users aren't as loose with the dollars as Apple users are. And this is a problem for Android as it tries to expand into new areas such as wearables and home automation.

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Android

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  • fragmentation

    I 100% agree with you. Fragmentation, is a big problem for android, it keeps programmers away from the platform.

    It makes it very hard to test on all of the android flavors out there. Hardware and software.
    • I've said it before

      so I'll say it again here:

      This is the same rehashed argument about fragmentation and is nothing more than a click-bait article. The tone of the article is very doom and gloom instead of being objective with all of the details released at I/O.

      First consider the fact that Googlehas switched from a 6 month release cycle to an approximate 1 year release cycle for new versions of Android and that they are now offering a developer preview months in advance of the official release. While this alone will not solve the slow update process, it should help significantly speed it up.

      The next thing to consider is that Google will not allow anyone to skin Android TV, Wear, or Auto. They haven't said anything about the new version of Android, but we can imagine that Google may not allow skinning the newer version of Android, or at the very least put heavy limitations on it. This again will help speed up the process for OEMs as they will not have to spend time coding or upgrading their skins to the version of Android.

      Lastly, there are additional clues in the latest version of the Play Services Framework. They have for the last few years been migrating much of their offerings as apps into the Play Store and behind the scenes features into the Play Services Framework. By doing this they are displacing a lot of the reasons that an system update benefits a user. With the recent Google Search update just about everyone can have a Google Now everywhere experience similar to the Moto X without having to buy a new phone, root and flash a new ROM, or wait for an OEM system update (yes I'm aware the feature hasn't been rolled out completely, but most people have it by now). And the largest clue with the Play Service Framework is that all future security updates and patches will now be deployed via the Play Services Framework. From there you can almost see Android itself moving slowly to a complete OTA update system where Android itself slowly becomes a combination of various components that can be individually updated, as opposed to a one-time mass system upgrade.

      Google resolved a lot of the upgrade issues with the release of Android at last years I/O conference. By packaging a lot of the updated functions into the Google Services Framework they can update people's handsets without actually updating them. And now with the inclusion of security patches with the Google Services Framework upgrading your handset is starting to become a moot point.

      As for the "marks it hard to test on all of the android flavors out there":
      • Annoncements

        And Apple and IBM have announced something that may or may not produce something of substance at some point in the future, and Android has now "lost" the enterprise.
        • Stupid no edit button..........

        • It will...

          our IT Management is already happy about it.
      • AHHH "These are lame excuses. Anyone..."

        thank you for proving his point.
      • But when?

        Your comments are valid, but that's the point of the article. Android needs to address these concerns and until it's a reality, it will be a problem. Android has market share, but there are 3 primary reasons. 1) It's rolled out to more, lower-income countries, 2) It's devices are generally cheaper than Apple's, and 3) Technical ignorance - jumping on the anti-Apple bandwagon or just choosing what's prominent in the store - or choosing the device with newer options or fewer limitations. Very few people I know (and I support many in these decisions) understand the technical pros and cons of mobile OSes.

        Personally, I would love to recommend Android - and for my technical contacts, I do. But the fragmentation and different hardware options make me sway away from that recommendation for the average user. (Again, there are other factors like cost and personal preference that may make the decision, but I can rarely say one OS is technically better than the other and the average user understand that.) If Android could overcome the fragmentation and skinning issue, then it would be easier to compare. I have users bring me their devices all the time to setup corporate email and often the configurations are not exactly the same. Also, some can't rid their devices of the carrier's software or stop the battery-draining apps. There are crash complaints and the question of why my Android phone won't do what the other guy's Android phone does. (Not to mention the tablet options.)

        Don't get me wrong. I like Android and while I use an iPhone (company-supplied; not necessarily by choice), I don't like Apple's limitations and their views of what I need. Also, there will always be inherent fragmentation when software is supplied on many different devices/manufacturers. But this isn't an Android bash. It is simply a fact that Android could be hurt and will definitely benefit depending on how they address these issues.
      • Just read change logs

        Read any change log for any still maintained Android application and you will see lots of "fixed this for that device" entries. Android fragmentation IS a HUGE problem since it results in junk apps. For example, right now my tablet has been upgraded to Android 4.4.2, the Google Maps app has also been upgraded, and now it crashes on pan and zoom. "Rehashed argument", right?
    • it's true

      Not only programmer, it keeps millions of users in the dark too. Google must take control of system updates but it's not gonna happen with Android L either until and unless one purchases Google Play edition devices. I was just amazed that they still don't care about it
    • API are mess

      The big problem with Android development is that the whole APIs are very ugly. Where are software engineering best practices?
      Take a look to MediaPlayer class for example. It keeps a state, and this state is not encapsulated or hidden, but instead is visible to the programmer, that need to check the state in order to call a method.

      For example if I call the stop() method on a MediaPlayer object that is newly created, it throws an IllegalStateException.

      This is a mess.
    • why I don't spend much on my Android

      Because it comes with so much that I need out of the box I don't need to spend as much on apps. This is a feature.

      The other reason is that Google works on an advertising model. The Apple game costs money. The same game on Android is free but I have to endure seeing adverts.

      It is just a different model. Actually there are plenty of apps where I wouldn't mind paying a dollar or so to remove the ads
    • real fragmentation

      My favourite iOS device is my iPod Touch 4th gen because it is the most portable.
      After an update and restore, I lost apps that used to be on it.
      I cannot update to iOS7 and I connect get apps like Garageband back.
      All the Apple aps now require iOS7 and iOS6 users are chucked under the fragmentation bus.
      I have over 20 android devices using 2.2 to 4.4.4 and none of them have massive app fragmentation like iOS.
  • Yawn

    You keep prattling on about how fragmentation is going to destroy the platform, and yet ... it just keeps growing.

    Forked Android is going to stop Android dominance? Really? It might hinder Google, but Android is more than Google.

    The enterprise is kind of a point, but consumers are a better market than the enterprise in terms of profits.

    And now we have people not spending money. That's okay, it's basically an ad driven platform.
    Michael Alan Goff
    • I 100% agree with you

      Writers like the one for this article are (because it's true) Apple fan boys. Why do I say that? It's because this "fragmentation" monster they're always crying about is actually a strong point. Android exists on watches, TVs, game consoles, phones (both tiny and massive), tablets, desktops, laptops, kiosks, heads-up display devices (Glass), and more. What does iOS exist on? iPhone and iPad.....

      Which is great for developers, right? No fragmentation! oh wait.... there is:

      iPhone 4s 960x640 A5 chip 3.5 inch display
      iPhone 5s 1136x640 A6 chip 4 inch display
      iPhone 5c 1136x640 A7 & M7 chip 4 inch display
      iPad Air 2048x1536 A7 chip 9.7 inch display
      iPad w/retina 2048x1536 A6X chip 9.7 inch display
      iPad mini w/retina 2048x1536 A7 chip 7.9 inch display
      iPad mini 1024x768 A5 chip 7.9 inch display

      These are the currently supported device by Apple. There's as much variation in the screen resolution and sizes of the display to worry about as would an Android developer. See this article for a very good explaination to what I mean:

      "Android handsets are cheaper than iPhones, and so people who are willing spend more choose iPhone."

      Where's the proof for this? When did writers for ZDNet start throwing out blanket statements with zero corroborating evidence?

      The evidence does not agree with the author:
      • Heck, iPhone even has fragmented chargers.
        • Along with "fragmented" screens....

          which means, make sure you don't drop those expensive devices.
          • Ain't that the truth.

            Every second or third iPhone I see has a cracked screen.
          • You mean like my son's 400 S3

            at the time bumped into a door inside his pocket and broke the screen. Nice try.
          • ScanBack: Why does your son have a door inside his pocket?

            Tiny door? Huge pocket? Strong kid? Huge kid?

            Nevertheless, nobody is saying that other smartphones can't get cracked screens, but, I hear many more stories about cracked iPhone screens than about any other brand. In fact, both my daughter and her husband had to replace their iPhone 4s, and ended up with iPhone 5s. They're making sure to grip their devices very tightly, since, they're not too sure that their screens can take even the tiniest of jolts.
          • I repair phones and tablets

            Nobody does cracked screens like Apple.
            They designed their devices with glass edge as impact zones.
            And then make it even easier to drop with slippery aluminium housing.
            Might be form over function, but I do a lot of Apple screens and have Apple to thank for the stream of busted screens.
            I do a lot of Android phones too, but they seems to need a lot more effort to damage because they don't generally use glass edges.