16 May 2012

Android Fragmentation: Bad or Worse?

Android fragmentation is very real and very serious, but not a fatal disease.
And this is just last year's phones...
OK, let's get this out in the open right away: Android is fragmented. No joke.

In any phones store, you'll see dozens of Android phone or tablet models. The most recent of these will be running either Android 2.3 ('Gingerbread') or Android 4 ('Ice Cream Sandwich'), but if the shop has any leftover stock from late 2011 those devices could just as likely be loaded with Android 2.2 ('Froyo').

So, yeah, fragmentation's right out in the open. It's so obvious, the only question is a matter of scale;  are we looking at a manageable mess or a crushing impediment? Between model SKUs and OS versions, there are thousands of Android device types...and that looks really bad. Our lead photo (above) doesn't do it justice.

But this one does.:
Chart: Android mobile operating system fragmentation by device type, 2012
Image: opensignalmaps
The font's way too small (to view the full-size original, hit the source), but seriously -- do you have to read that to get an idea of how confusing this situation has become? Jeez, look at all those teensy-weensy rectangles! Even at this relatively delicate resolution, we think the overall effect is pretty close to overwhelming.

Provided by Open Signal Maps, this visualization of Android fragmentation uses boxes to represent the many and varied devices - the bigger the box, the larger that model's share of all Android devices now in use. That big green box is for Samsung's Galaxy II, which accounts for nearly 10% of the Android userbase.

OSM also compared installed Android OS versions (April 2011 to April 2012).:
Chart: fragmentation of Android mobile operating system at the API level, 2011 - 2012.
Click for larger version
But let's be clear about one more thing: MobilePhonesFan is no alarmist. We're not trying to frighten anyone. There will be no apocalyptic warnings about how a time will come -- any day now! -- when Android will be such a mess that everyone abandons it for the safety of iOS. Android is not going to blow up. That's crazy talk.

Sure, Android's fragmentation is more than merely a vague concern; it's a real-world problem. And like any problem the way to deal with it with it. Don't ignore it. Don't pretend it's not there. However scary it may seem at first glance, study it in the cold light of day then test and analyze before formulating a course of action. 

You know, get all scientific method on it.

The best approach to any problem: test and analyze, per the Scientific Method.
The Scientific Method: Learn it. Know it. Live it.
And when it comes to scientific stuff, the single most important thing to remember is to be objective. Stay focused, keep your emotions under control and let your brain do it's thing. If you manage that, you'll come to realize 'fragmentation' isn't simply an unexpected bug; it's the flip side of a feature called 'customization'.

Sorry for all the tough love, but somebody (with no axe to grind) has to say it. Too many published opinions on this topic have shown clear ignorance or bias on the writer's part. For years, we've heard how 'Android will die of fragmentation' and yet Android sales grow, every month. (BTW: they said the same thing about Windows.)

So don't worry; don't freak out ...get scientific. You and the platform will both be the better for it. As to the fear-mongers, let 'em babble; you can't stop them anyway; they'll keep writing so long as they know somebody's paying attention...or paying by the word. Oh -- and as to the best course of action, we agree with this guy: QA FTW.

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