As Android smartphones sell like hot cakes — 3.7 million were reportedly activated on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — concerns about the fragmentation of the operating system are increasing, and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt sought to allay those fears while speaking at a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show Tuesday.
Schmidt reportedly stated that Android is not fragmented, but rather “differentiated.”
Further, Google wants to have all Android users employ Android 4.0 aka “Ice Cream Sandwich,” Schmidt reportedly stated. However, customers will retain choice because they’re not bound to any one manufacturer’s hardware.
However, Schmidt’s insistence that Android’s differentiated rather than fragmented is “just marketing at the end of the day,” chuckled Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at Lopez Research.
“From the developer’s perspective, we hear two things about what’s wrong with Android, or what it can do better: Friction and fragmentation,” Simon Khalaf, president and CEO at Flurry Analytics, told LinuxInsider. “If developers say Android is fragmented, then it is.”
Google did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Differentiation means consumers have a choice, and the phone manufacturers will compete on their view of innovation, Schmidt explained.
Fragmentation, on the other hand, means an app will run on one device and not another, he added.
Back in March, at the Android Developers’ Conference, Google’s Chet Haase stated that there was a lot of talk about fragmentation in the Android world.
The company included the “Fragments” feature in Android 3.0, aka “Honeycomb,” which was released in March, to deal with fragmentation, Haase said.
However, Fragments are “simply UI building blocks and have nothing to do with fragmentation per se,” Flurry’s Khalaf contended.
Fragmentation Is Alive and Well
The Android market is suffering from fragmentation, which “refers to device fragmentation in which developers have to worry about UI (user interface) differences, hardware spec differences, [and] OS version differences between Android devices,” Flurry’s Khalaf told LinuxInsider.
“Developers are suffering from the exact issue Dr. Schmidt is talking about, one app running on a device and not another,” Khalaf pointed out. “In the developer’s view, there isn’t a single version of Android; there are versions of Android based on the devices that ship with [it].”
“Different device manufacturers are on different distributions of Android, and that’s a fragmentation issue.” Khalaf said. That means “development, testing, certification and the UI are [all] a bit different,” he added.
“You have Android islands, and everybody won’t get the same Android experience,” Lopez Research’s Lopez told LinuxInsider.
We All Scream for Ice Cream?
Google’s desire to move Android phone users to Ice Cream Sandwich, as Schmidt reportedly stated, is an attempt “to ease fragmentation issues in the next 18 months,” Flurry’s Khalaf speculated.
Moving to ICS isn’t so easy for all users, though. Some Android devices, even ones purchased relatively recently, cannot be upgraded to ICS. For those users, moving to ICS would require the purchase of a new phone. However, interpreting these efforts as coercion on Google’s part would be incorrect, Khalaf said.
“The lifetime of a smartphone contract is two years, and consumers will buy new devices anyway,” he explained.
Google “have to rationalize the OS platform, and it’s going to take them a while because Android’s so successful,” Lopez pointed out. “I think the goal for them going forward is to have one OS like [Apple’s] iOS, but that’s not going to happen for some years.”
However, Android devices appeal to both the high- and low-end markets, unlike the iPhone, which targets the high end, and that might be the hitch in Google’s plans to rationalize Android.
“If you really want global dominance, you need to have a product in each of the price points, and Google does want both the high and low ends,” Lopez remarked.
Room for One More?
Google’s long proclaimed its adherence to the open approach, where device manufacturers are free to modify Android’s UI, unlike Apple, which exerts strict control over every aspect of its products.
Both approaches will do well because of the size of the market, Flurry’s Khalaf said.
“When you talk about a (US)$1.15 trillion handset and PC tablet market, a $650 billion payment market, a $100 billion digital media and entertain market, and a $40 billion advertisement market that are being disrupted by mobile and the apps and software that power it, it’s almost a sure thing that both approaches will make it,” Khalaf explained. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
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