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March 1, 2010

On Android's Fragmentation

Many Android users complained that Google products like the mobile version of Google Buzz or Google Earth require Android 2.0 or Android 2.1, even if most people can't upgrade to the latest Android version without buying a new phone.

Robin, a Google employee that answers questions in the Google Mobile Forum, posted an interesting response:

"Keep in mind that part of the impetus for the Android foray in the first place was to get mobile OS development moving more rapidly. So here we are, with rapid iterations (multiple OS upgrades in under a year!) and yes, some growing pains. As devices gain more and more capability, I'd imagine we'll continue to develop features that take advantage of the latest and greatest. As much as we can, we'll adapt for older OS versions as well - which is why we're also pushing web apps that can cross platforms (and yes, I agree that it's awkward that this web app [Google Buzz for mobile] doesn't work seamlessly across all Android-powered devices, but we're working on it asap! I swear!)."

While it's a good idea to take advantage of the "latest and greatest" features, users that bought a phone six months ago should be able to use an application released last month, even if not all the features are available. Everyone should be able to update to the latest version of the operating system, especially if Android releases multiple major upgrades in a few months.

Mkibrick posted a wise comment when Google announced that Google Earth is available for Android: "Don't say something is available for "Android" when it is only available for a single phone. You'll just confuse and anger your customers." Google Earth is available for Android, but it requires Android 2.1, which is limited to Nexus One, at least for now.

While carriers and hardware manufactures could be blamed for the slow migration to the latest Android versions, Google could update important software components like the browser independently from the operating system.


Photo licensed as Creative Commons by scorche.

7 comments:

  1. Coincidentally(?), I read this bit of encouraging news today:

    http://lifehacker.com/5481872/all-android-phones-in-the-us-will-receive-an-upgrade-to-android-21

    When the upgrade will happen, who knows. "Q2 2010" is still somewhat vague, and a little ways off, with plenty of wiggle room for delays. But at least it's in the works.

    -r-

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  2. Nice post. I have been reading a lot about the multiple OS versions, apps supported only on the latest Android version and that scares me enough to put on hold my plans of purchasing an Android phone. Really hope the "asap" is really As soon as possible.

    Varun

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  3. I totally understand the OS and hardware feature support issues, my beef is with the intrinsic Google apps that I can only get with the updates. My case in point: I have a Android Dev Phone 1 with 1.6 and my GTalk doesn't have the feature to set my status to away when the screen is locked. There is no way my phone doesn't support that feature, but there is no way to upgrade just GTalk.

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  4. Fragmentation is/was the enemy of symbian and windows mobile. Different screen resolutions, different devices, strange bugreps that only appear on models that ship in countries abroad, which don't work when you get a version in your hands as you lack the right cellphone infrastructure, etc.

    Where iphone has an edge right now is even with some version differences, the display/UI is uniform and the ipod touch is compatible for wlan apps: a far bigger installed base than anything else. If we started to get standard music players running android too, that may increase the installed base, but presumably everyone now views the ipod as a legacy device, just as the phone-for-voice-calls-and-texting-only is.

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  5. I think that the main problem lies with the dependence Google has on operators to push updates. In the US Google can push the operators a bit to have them deploy upgrade, but internationally this is a nightmare: in Europe alone you have more than twenty countries each with several operators, and in some countries (like Belgium here) phones sales have to be distinct from network operations (meaning that operators have to sell phones for the users of all networks, not only their own). What Google should do is ensure that the phone manufacturers can also distribute upgrades as a download that can be installed from a PC trough USB. This would cut out the operators which IMHO are the biggest problem, and Google would only have to deal with manufacturers.

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  6. I'm so glad I have a Palm Pre... I get every update to webOS that Palm releases. In the few months I've had this phone, I've already received 3 fairly major updates.

    When I got this phone, I was considering getting an Android based phone (the Hero was just about to be released on Sprint). At that time, the fragmentation wasn't quite as obvious. I ended up not getting the Android based phone for other reasons (mostly polish... and I really like both Palms multitasking and their Synergy feature [though I think it's a dumb name]). If I was looking today, I don't think I'd be nearly as tempted by the Android phone as updates are pretty important to me.

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  7. I have been reading a lot about the multiple OS versions, apps supported only on the latest Android version and that scares me enough to put on hold my plans of purchasing an Android phone.

    Where iphone has an edge right now is even with some version differences, the display/UI is uniform and the ipod touch is compatible for wlan apps: a far bigger installed base than anything else.

    If we started to get standard music players running android too, that may increase the installed base, but presumably everyone now views the ipod as a legacy device, just as the phone-for-voice-calls-and-texting-only is.

    ReplyDelete