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back to article Google: Android fragmentation isn't fragmentation

Google Android project leader Andy Rubin isn't concerned about the fragmentation of the Android handset market. In fact, he doesn't even call it fragmentation. Google's primary aim to ship new and improved Android devices as quickly as possible, and a natural by-product of this, Rubin says, is that the market will span myriad …

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Isn't this how open platforms are supposed to work?

Surely rapid iteration and deployment is a good thing, and the resulting compatibility chaos is a natural side effect of a vibrant and active market developing around the platform?

Early adopters are used to half-baked ideas and fast obsolescence, and Android is definitely an early-adopter's platform still.

It's one of the more annoying aspects of open source, but eventually things settle down and the technology moves into the mainstream. Hopefully it can achieve some stability by then as mainstream consumers won't put up with it.

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Anonymous Coward

Sort of...but not quite

Most FOSS projects make their development code publicly available so you know where it's going before release, and can prepare for it. If you can see something's going to cause problems you may or may not be able to get it changed before release, but at least you get to see it before it hits you.

Android development happens behind closed doors, with Google letting it out as and when they see fit. Phone manufacturers get to see what's on its way, but other developers are kept in the dark. Phone manufacturers like it this way as it suits their marketing, but it's a pain in the arse for developers. If you need more than one guess at which google think are more important at the moment you haven't been paying attention.

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Jobs Halo

it's fragmented? defrag it then

The major advantage Apple has with its iPhones its that they are a somewhat standard platform: you have the same OS and underlying libraries on all devices as they are updated, except hardware support (e.g. GPS and processor speed etc). Its guaranteed that the software I made will work on older models -- in fact it is software for iPhone, period.

Now with Android, it's worse than Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile's updates were far away, and as they basically use the same API, software from WM6 works correctly on WM5 with no problem.

I would like to see how WinMo would behave on a system with lots of RAM, like those new shiny googly smartphones. Despite my Axim x50v having only 64MB, which WinMo eats at least some 40MB, it has a somewhat acceptable performance.

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well

WM works fantastic on my omnia pro. It runs everything I want, is speedy, doesnt zap the battery and simply works.

Same cannot be said for my 1.6 android gw620 with no updates therefore no hope of fixes to the numerous bugs.

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Silver badge

Argument doesn't stand up to muster

Hang on, your argument that the iPhone is fragmented rests on (i) counting the iPad as an iPhone; and (ii) hardware changes as yet unannounced that you expect to see in the next handset? And then you're leaping from being able to show any difference across the hardware line to the conclusion that the platform is "just as fragmented as any other platform"? Both Android and the iPhone have some level of differentiation between devices. Does that make them as fragmented as computers running Windows? What about WebOS devices — are they just as fragmented as computers running MS DOS were circa 1993?

Fragmentation is a question of degree and is an issue to the extent that the tools make it difficult to deal with.

Apple support a fully dynamic runtime (ie, in every situation, since day one, you can check which APIs are available, what calls those APIs include, and make those calls if they exist — even if you're testing and using APIs that weren't defined when your version of the SDK shipped) and seem to be promising to always provide the latest version of the OS to all users that purchased within the last three years. All APIs that relate to functionality that differs across hardware exist on all platforms and can be called in a static-type fashion to query capabilities.

You obviously have a very weird idea of what planning for fragmentation means.

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Flame

then it is....

half baked!. well, let's not call it that. it's just half done.... wait a minute. let's not call it that.

We'll get back to you when we figure how i'll do with none geeky crowed.

Google: we like to use words that please the open source community but only so that we can achieve better our dominance and control over what each and everyone does. on the "fee" www.

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WTF?

G1

Even Android 2.1 works fine on my G1 if I use a decent ROM like Cy Mod.

Legacy hardware can run the latest Android IF the developers want it to. Its down to the time tha tthey put into making it compatable.

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Grenade

ermm

Why would they? The carriers dont want you to upgrade your OS, the handset makers don't want to upgrade your OS, so you are talking about which developers?

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Unhappy

Re "I think everybody wants this rapid iteration."

Not customers locked into 18/24 month contracts. What happened to 12 month ones?

I just hope I'll be able to upgrade my new HTC Desire to Froyo.

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Stop

Not Google's fault

When you buy a branded phone on a subsidizing contract, the operator gets to piss all over it as they desire, no matter if it's Google, Nokia, or whoever. On one hand I saved major bucks. On the other, I have to hope Verizon doesn't take forever with the update to my Droid. That's life with a contract phone.

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I don't blame Google.

And I like my Desire. It would be nice to have the option of a much shorter period before I can upgrade it though.

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Anonymous Coward

Not if it's an iPhone

Zero carrier branding afaik. No dictation Over the content on the phone… just tethering I suppose.

Wrt to Android, the bigger issue is that both the carriers AND the hardware makers have zero real incentive to provide or support updates. The longer they can go without doing it, the more likely the user is to do a forced upgrade to a new phone on a new contract.

The advantage for iPhone owners is that carriers have no say in this whatsoever, and it is up to Apple what hardware is supported (which also has its downsides, of course). Google have very foolishly locked themselves out of the update loop by handing control to others.

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If you don't want a contract

Don't buy the phone with one. There are already pay as you go android phones, and of course you can go somewhere like pixmania and just buy one without a contract.

I bought an unlocked phone and use it with a pay as you go plan. I did so on the basis that I travel between the office and home (both with wifi) and if I absolutely must have internet somewhere else I can pay 99 cents for 50Mb. So why be locked into some ridiculous contract?

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Anonymous Coward

I blame them

They made a stupid choice in licensing that encourages fragmentation so it's not just inter-version fragmentation but each OEM is adding their own stuff.

Everybody whined about such issues with Java ME but seem perfectly happy to go down the same road (or worse) with Android. Won't anyone ever learn.

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Anonymous Coward

dont diss them

How dare you diss Google? Don't you know they are the saviours of the mobile phone market? Google dont care about fragmentation (oh yeah its not fragmentation...), they only care about their real revenue (ads), your carrier doesnt care about you (please buy a new phone on a new contract), your handset maker doesn't care about you (buy our shiny new phone, sell your old one on ebay if you must).

No android lover is going to sate google for fragmentation, its not winmo and its not apple, thats all that matters.... They can hack their mobile with the latest OS and post up their speed comparisons on the web, stfu

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Anonymous Coward

So you are not going to use it then?

Effectively most people cannot use their wireless connection at work (unusual for an company to allow its staff to access to the corp wifi). So lets assume most people want to use 1GB per month away from home? thats like $20 on PAYG for data usage?

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If worst comes to worst

I agree some manufacturers have suckier after sales support than others. You factor that in during your purchase. If your phone was end of lifed, you might find that it possible to flash it with CyanogenMod firmware

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Android developers don't have a huge problem supporting different phones

The android site has a target devices page that tells you the % break down of phones running different API levels:

http://developer.android.com/resources/dashboard/platform-versions.html

At the moment 2.1 is gaining popularity but 1.6 & 1.5 still have large slices. You could easily code to 1.5 or 1.6 and support every device. It makes sense to use the lowest API level which support the features you need, so maximizing your potential market.

All new phones support older API levels so it's hardly a big deal if you write an app to 1.6 specs. If you have to you can also design an app to provide different layouts for different size screens or just let android scale things for you based on device independent pixels.

Maybe in a few years older APIs do get end of lifed, but in most instances upgrading to a newer API level is as straightforward as changing a few lines in a manifest file and rebuilding.

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Anonymous Coward

hmmm

"..At the moment 2.1 is gaining popularity but 1.6 & 1.5 still have large slices. You could easily code to 1.5 or 1.6 and support every device. It makes sense to use the lowest API level which support the features you need, so maximizing your potential market."..

so basically all new features/apis are useless to devs until market share is high enough? Unless they wish to code for all platforms? The new froyo release will see a further watering down of those %s per android release?

Seems to me that googles suggestion that they love their devs more than apple is slightly skewed.

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Not sure

Numerous people are complaining that their beloved apps are no longer working under Froyo, the stock answer to this on android forums is that you have to wait for devs to update their apps, so this seems to suggest that backwards compatability is not what you would expect?

Or maybe this is how it is supposed to work too?

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Anonymous Coward

@DrXym

Your posts makes absolute sense. If I were an Android developer that's what I'd be doing.

And it's exactly what Steve Jobs doesn't want and why he changed the T&Cs recently for developers, so they wouldn't code to the lowest common denominator, that the iPhone apps which come out will always be taking full advantage of all the latest and greatest features of the most recent iPhone.

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Boffin

@AC

"so basically all new features/apis are useless to devs until market share is high enough? Unless they wish to code for all platforms?"

So, AC, I take it you do not program then? The new features are there for those that need/want to use them. They are relevant. However, this is akin to the Windows Operating System. Windows 7 has a snazzy GUI for which you can write your programs. However, these GUI APIs do not work on WinXP (or older). The developer would have to implement some checking and use the most suitable GUI API for the platform the app is running on. Most (lazy) programmers just go for the lowest common denominator. Others with more time, knowledge, or backing can write their apps to use older API calls for Android 1.x, and newer ones for 2.x+ if they really wanted to include newer features or GUI changes.

The failing of backwards-compatibility is a sad note, but we have no official word if these "broken" apps are just shoddy code churned out by monkeys, or properly written apps. I would dare say the "broken" apps are simply poorly written, perhaps missing an appropriate error-check or not utilizing API feedback....

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Anonymous Coward

This was the point

Even people on here are saying why not just go for lowest common denominator, I agree ideally people would go to the effort of making their code adaptable, we all know what should happen. No I haven't programmed for years, but well aware of how to.

Now google need to sort this, google sitting back and saying "oh it's not fragmentation" is ignoring the elephant in the room. And the issue is clearly that fragmentation is a positive thing for carriers/manafacturers as it forces sales. People are not going to be happy that their 6 month old phone is running back level software meaning they cant access all content.

People will not judge the carrier or the device, they will judge the perceived owner, i.e. google and android. A certain amount of control is a good thing. However it is clear that google are currently more interested in make the carriers/mfrs happy than the developers and users.

I want Android and Apple to be successful, competition can drive innovation.

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Flame

Breakdown

Android, eh? Nerds put up with countless near-experimental iterations of it and wax on / wax off about how it's going to change the world, the public at large generally pick something that looks passable and familiar, and those that specifically want a half decent, dependable user experience get an iPhone.

Funny that. It's ALMOST like the Linux / Windows / OSX debate isn't it?

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Silver badge

Nope

It's nothing like the Linux / Windows / OS X debate. Android isn't some cobbled together UI that only a nerd could love.

It's a very usable, slick, intuitive and open phone operating system. One which has been adopted by numerous phone manufactures, one which is appearing in phones selling at all price points on all networks. The user experience in the likes of an HTC Desire is excellent and easy to pick up even for someone who owns an iPhone.

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Anonymous Coward

No and Yes

You are right that the geeky types are happy to hack their phones to pieces to get the latest OS on their handsets, but android is actually like a better, and worse, version of linux. At the front end you get a slick interface that competes with the iPhone, on the backend your phone may be effectively obsolete in 6-12 months, unless you are willing to add in new Roms, use CLI, etc. All the shiny new apps written for the latest version will not be accessible to you, of course that's ok as google wont tell you about them on the market place (ever heard of word of mouth guys?).

Carriers will happily let you upgrade to a new phone though, on a new contract..

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@Anon John

If you're not averse to a little muddying about and remember to make a back-up of your phone's software before doing anything else, it's extremely easy to flash any android phone with pretty much any rom you desire.

Get rid of that provider dependence, just get Cy mod or one of the other good roms out there, which will work on pretty much any Android phone (And a surprisingly large number of non-android phones!)

Not sure if there's any 1-click installers to do it yet, but it's not that hard to do with the SDK software and a little CLI work.

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Flame

Sounds exactly like

something my girlfriend would do. If google don't realise fragmentation is a problem for their devs they are screwed, no normal user is going piff around with their phone using a geek fix to get the latest software running.

Why would they bother you say?

Well their best friend has an application/game developed for froyo, and they want it too, but they can't because they are on 2.1 (1.6 if your phone is 12 months old and carrier is not upgrading), do you think for their next phone they are going to care its the carriers fault? or the handset makers fault?

Google have allowed the carriers/phone makers to have the upgrade power, neither of which have any incentive to do so.

Therefore if you have an android phone and want the latest games/apps to work, they are going to have to be prepared as mentioned to buy a new phone at full price,and sell their old one on ebay.

Flame away..

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@ @Anon John

It looks as if Froyo will be available for the Desire on 23 June. And it looks like a wothwhile upgrade.

Storing apps on the SD card for one.

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sounds great but not quite.

SDK wont have the majority of the "phone" parts. It isnt like flashing winmo where you had a phone section and a pda section. Android combines the two so you need the details on the phone. I dont know of any SDK that has this publicly. Sure you could take a HTC phone A and guess that HTC phone B is probably the same and you might get from 1.6 ->2.1 but I wouldnt bet on it.

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FAIL

i hate my Droid

I hate it because it drains it's battery so quickly, the picture gallery crashes most of the time, and it's calculator doesn't even have a percentage function. I want windows back. I want notepad back. DROID DOESN'T!

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? short battery life o all modern smartphones?

Are you really sure of that - I'm averaging 3 days between charges on the HD2.

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Anonymous Coward

Bigger willy platform

Look on any blog/form/tech site about the android, do you recognise any common themes? The most commented on and discussed things? How many Mflops am I getting out of my device on linpack with 2.1/2.2.

When you actually get down to user experience, noone discusses it or when they do they are slated... improvement in actually opening apps .. approx 4 seconds to run camera app, compared to 7 before.

Only small amounts of people are going to be interested in the fact that your incredible is capable of 6.3Mflops on fp calculations.

The big advances, such as embedded Flash support are getting more mixed reactions (either slow/choppy video or difficulty getting it to work, particularly with games).

Vote me down android fanbois

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iPhone not one platform for long

With the release of OS4 they will be fragmented as well, it's only for 3GS and up.

Older 2G and 3G phones will; be left on OS3 - fragmentation. I guess we'll see how they handle it.

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Stop

@dave 46

No they won't be left on OS3, they'll just not be able to take advantage of some of the new functionality such as multi-tasking because the hardware isn't fast enough, but they'll still run OS4.

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WTF?

"I don't think anyone is harmed by it"

its easy to say that when you have a lovely free Nexus from the company, that is and always will be running the latest version of Android.

Andy obviously hasn't had the pleasure of having a HTC Hero stuck on cupcake (1.5) which is now unable to run some of the latest apps being developed. No Fennec (Firefox for Mobile) or Official Twitter app for us! Not even mentioning the outdated Google apps, various bugs, etc that have been fixed/updated.

Thank god for XDA

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Dead Vulture

Splitting OS updates to market

Reg - Android dev has said that the future version of android will remove this "fragmentation" by slitting parts that it can (of the OS) into the market - for example, the dialer (a bit like how maps work at the moment), so it can speed development of apps, without a brand new SDK/OS every few months - then the releases become further apart, and bigger - giving everyone more chance to catch up.

They do need a stable release schedule though.

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Although I love my Nexus One,

I disagree with Rubin where he says he doesn't think anyone is harmed by the fragmentation. Those users who are harmed are those whose still relatively new phone is physically capable of running the newest version of Android but the manufacturer has shown no interest in providing an update. I'm thinking here of phones like the HTC Hero, whose owners are still languishing on Android 1.5.

If Google were to provide a simple centralised way to backup someone's current phone install, download a newer version of Android and install it, along with tools to restore to the backup if the new install doesn't work, then I'll agree that nobody is really harmed by fragmentation. But phone makers don't always have the best interests of the end user in mind and to rely on them to provide updates will leave many people running old software on hardware that is capable of much more.

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Official HTC Hero 2.1 update already out

The Android 2.1 update for the Sprint network Hero was released last week.

The update for the GSM Hero is scheduled for June.

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HTC Hero 2.1 update

It's out finally? Cool, didn't know that. I still think Google should design a one-stop-upgrade-shop though, so users aren't at the mercy of the manufacturers.

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Headmaster

Playing with the buzzwords?

Well, what did you expect from a crowd that refers to Frozen Yoghurt as "Froyo"? Ugh, ugh, thrice ugh and may the god of linguistics bring forth a plague of evil neologisms upon thy houses.

There's an old saying: "Beware of Geeks bearing gifts", or something like that.

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I've got a HTC Desire

Had my Desire about 3 weeks, it does everything that I need from a pocketsized device.

Text my boss to say I was going to be late, used the sat nav to try and cut down the lateness, checked my calendar to make sure where I was supposed to be, checked my village on pocket empires, tweeted about traffic jams and checked my email to see whether there was anything urgent I need to know about.

All from my phone!

Plus I am not tied to Apple either, it really doesn't get much better.

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