back to article Android 'splits' into the Good and the lovechild of Bad and Ugly

Android was everywhere at Mobile World Congress last week - there seems to be no stopping Google's mobile operating system that's now almost as ubiquitous as a colour display. But the success hides the platform's problems, insists one analyst. Former Nomura analyst Richard Windsor paints a picture of increasing fragmentation …


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  1. AceRimmer

    Almost 2 years old?

    XP was a lot older than that before it got replaced :)

    The analysts also forgot the second division, those who root and flash a custom rom and those who don't

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Almost 2 years old?

      XP was built on a fairly mature NT platform and had lots of service packs over the years.

    2. ratfox Silver badge

      Those who root and flash a custom rom

      Analysts don't usually bother with slivers of less than 0.1% of the market…

      1. AceRimmer

        Re: Those who root and flash a custom rom

        2 of the top paid apps are for rooted phones,

        I agree that the overall market share might not be big, but it is a big slice of the market share that counts i.e. users who are tech savvy and cash rich

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Those who root and flash a custom rom


          That's an interesting stat. Do you think that's because lots of people are rooting Android? After all it was pushed heavily by geeks (when it was still quite flaky but with great possibilities. Or is it that not many people are paying for Android apps (so a smallish number of real enthusiasts dominate)? Or worse, are most Android customers not even going to the Play store, as they just took the phone they were given?

      2. BillG Silver badge

        Re: Those who root and flash a custom rom

        Turns out that between 15% and 20% of Android users are rooted, most of them teenagers. Take a look at the download stats on Google Play apps that say the device must be rooted.

        What makes a low-end Android gadget such a crappy experience? The cheapo hardware can't keep up with the demands of the software, we're told.

        Actually, it's when the phone manufacturer loads a low-end phone with branded crap that can't meet the demands of the hardware.

        I've taken crappy phones with lousy reviews like the LG Optimus V, rooted them, removed the carrier-branded apps and the phone runs like a dream. So the phone has the hardware capability. Lots of times it's just two apps you have to remove, 1) the carrier's "My Account" apps that run in the background, slowing the phone down, and 2) the "My Videos" app that runs carrier-provided Pay-Per-View video apps which also runs in the background. Both these apps snoop what you are doing. Anybody think Chinese-branded Android distis respect privacy?

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Almost 2 years old?

      Yeah, but my 2003 XP laptop did most of the same things as my Win 7 now

      machine does, and in much the same way. Mobile devices have been evolving more over the same period, though they now seem to be settling down a bit.

    4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Almost 2 years old?

      Also XP was continually getting security updates (some would say it needed them rather more than Android...), but people still on Gingerbread are rather more importantly often not getting any of Google's fixes for known bugs either.

      It would be nice for hardware to get updated with the latest-and-greatest software, up to the point that the new software breaks the hardware. I'd say that iOS 4 put a strain on the iPad 1 (too little RAM), but improved it. Whereas iOS 5 made the device worse, and so it shouldn't have got the upgrade. And with Apple not allowing downgrades that's bad. Windows Phone 7's updates over 18 months actually made the phones quicker (as well as adding new features) - as they actually reduced the hardware requirements. As WP8 needed dual cores, and did multi-tasking it would have been madness to allow upgrades - even if it did generate bad publicity.

      Some of the attacks on Android over updates are unfair, but a lot of them are very fair. And are less Google's fault as the manufacturers. But Google not only should have seen it coming, but even if they didn't have no excuse after 2 years of it being such an obvious problem. There's quite a lot of Android malware out there now, it's only a matter of time before something big sweeps through the ecosystem. Suddenly that comparison to XP looks rather unfortunate.

      Worse, not only is no-one ready for it, but Google will really struggle to fix it. They don't have the Windows Update tool available to them, and the current model means the handset manufacturers won't be updating old kit. Google need to plan for the possible PR disaster ahead. Look how Microsoft's reputation has barely improved in the public mind 10 years after they'd mostly fixed XP. And Android is still one choice of many, not yet in a monopoly position to protect it.

  2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. ContentsMayVary

      Re: Evolution in action

      >>We've noticed that upcoming communications powerhouse Huawei makes Google almost invisible on its flagship smartphones.

      He has't tried to install any software from the Play store, then? I see...

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Evolution in action

      Different Linux distros are suited to different users - embedded, supercomputer, desktop, mobile, bleeding edge, conservative (with a small c), secure and so on.


      Hmmmm. That gives me an idea. Blue desktop theme, Margaret Thatcher wallpaper, 1950s fonts, Arthur Scargill being punched by Boris Johnson screensaver... What should I call it? Toryx perhaps?

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      2. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: Evolution in action

        Now unlike Start8 I'd happily would be willing to chuck £5.00 for this, and it would be worth every Pence. The only way this could be improved upon is if you can manipulate Mrs. Thatcher into bitchslapping some little 4-eyed brat in the face, and stealing their Milk. Now the would be WIN!

      3. Alan Esworthy
        Thumb Up

        Re: Evolution in action

        Think i18n and you could make a pile of money selling country-specific themes. For the Merkin market, how about Shock and Awe in Baghdad wallpaper and Dick Cheney punching out Teddy Kennedy?

        (Most here would know this but for those who do not "i18n" is shorthand for the 20-letter word "internationalization.")

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So mfg can't be a**ed to do the system tuning necessary

    So with the word on how good or bad a handset is getting round pretty quickly why would anyone want to buy a seriously rubbish one?

    If it's expected to sell in the 100s of 1000s (millions?) surely a few thousand spent on a better tuning of the system would be worthwhile?

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: So mfg can't be a**ed to do the system tuning necessary

      pay £30 for a phone and get £30 worth of quality. Gingerbread is pretty much "fixed". If the drivers match then a company can churn out cheap low powered phones. suitable for many demographics. If you dont like it, dont buy it - but it doesnt mean they are crap just low powered.

    2. Si 1

      Re: So mfg can't be a**ed to do the system tuning necessary

      I'd imagine crap handsets sell quite well to people due an upgrade who want "one of those touch screen thingies" and think the only difference between models is in the colour of the casing.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: So mfg can't be a**ed to do the system tuning necessary

      John Smith,

      Remember, the customer... Isn't the customer. The networks are still mostly the customer. Hence the proliferation of multiple handset models with impenetrable names and tiny differences. Or MMS controls on the homescreen, or hardwired WAP buttons on the keyboards (all for a bit of operator kickbacks). It was the iPhone that first smashed this, didn't the iPhone 1 not even do MMS?

      There's an awful lot of handset makers out there still doing this. Even Samsung does it, on their bewildering range of cheap and mid-price Droids. It's just they've also got the really good high-end ones, where they know the customer is actually choosing them deliberately.

      But at the low-end, people still mainly take the phone they're given, because they neither know, nor care, about the choices available.

      Even some of the mid-priced Androids can be pretty shoddy - with too slow processors or not enough RAM. If you've got a limited budget the best bet is to buy last year's top-end Droids. That was why I went WinPho last year, because at the £120 I paid for it, there was no 'Droid to touch it - unless I was willing to root them. Though at £200 there was some rather nice kit. Admittedly my requirements were rather limited, but I think the very flexibility of Android is one of the main reasons it needs better hardware.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The biggest problem is there is a lot of good work done on Android that never gets returned to Google. With OEMs like Samsung in competition with Google it's no wonder, this is rather dysfunctional. The amount of man hours wasted must be huge.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      The amount of man-hours wasted during the whole story of humankind is huge.

      You always have to compare it against something ...

  5. Mikel


    BTW: You can get a quite nice 7" tablet for about $80 with Android 4.1 now. I have three of them. HP will have a 7"er for $169 starting next month with 4.1. You don't have to pay a lot for a nice tab.

    El Reg needs an Android icon of some sort. Guess I'll have to use Tux.

    1. RoboJ1M

      Re: Shenanigans

      Agreed, £110 gets you a 9" 1.5GHz dual core (ARM, don't know the type) jelly bean tablet with 1gb RAM and 8gb storage in our local tech shop. Not exactly breaking the bank there. Just a shame they don't sell equivalent phones too. I'm gonna go with smiley face. Because smiley.

      1. moiety

        Re: Shenanigans

        £76 gets you a perfectly competent 9" tablet with a keyboard case thrown in. I have a bunch of the 7" ones and they work fine.

        Not exactly a rocketship; but very far from "shoddy low-end devices that look good but "barely work"".

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Shenanigans

      Tablets are cheaper for some reason. My suspicion being that customers pay for tablets, but buy phones on HP through the networks, so get horribly ripped off.

      You can buy an iPad 4 for £400. And iPhone 5 costs £550. OK the 4G iPad costs £500, but we all know that extra chip (and the plastic hole in the metal case) does not cost an extra £100 - that's just profit.

      You can buy a 10" Samsung tablet for £250, the SIII costs £450. A Nexus 10 is about the same prices as a Nexus 4.

      The phones are smaller, so may need a bit more tweaking to get it all to fit, but the only real difference is that the tablets have much more expensive screens, and need more battery shoved in to power them.

    3. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: Shenanigans

      My findings suggest that pixel-density and resolution match those of the big guys (e.g. Samsung), but you can bet that those aren't any AMOLED Screens so how ~good~ they are in real life no idea. The things your are paying for (or in this case NOT paying for are a decent CPU and the amount of RAM that those low-end devices have. When most People in the "know" are looking for Devices that have upwards of 2Gb of on-board RAM to try and keep up for the eventuality of version 5+ Those low end devices with 512MBs of RAM won't have much life beyond what it might have came with.

      While I find $400.00+ Drvices way to extreme, I also think that those sub $100.00 beasties are just cheap nastly little things. But, it makes me wonder about all those cheap nVidia Tegra powered Tablets we were promised last Year. Seems like only the oldest stuff 'round is like $200.00+ and for Tegra 3 your in the Premier League again

  6. Oor Nonny-Muss

    For 99% of people...

    ... they don't give a rat's ass what version it's running only that it does what they want (be that navigate them from A to B, make calls, light browsing on the move,...) at the price they want in a device that is the size they want.

    Case in point, my dearest other half - doesn't want a big phone and it needs to be able to send/receive SMS and run one of the many chat apps... Why would she want a top end phablet running the latest greatest?

    I'm sure when it dies there'll be a panicked cast around for something she does like (although I have a spare phone identical to hers to allow at least some reduction in panic)

  7. Danny 14 Silver badge

    what is wrong with gingerbread? I still run (albeit it a heavily modified flashed version) gingerbread on my galaxy s2. It has a custom kernel though so many of the power saving features are probably surpassed anyway. "cheap" phones often have reasonable specs for their price anyway. My wife still uses an archaic (by current standards) xperia pro - dual 1ghz with 512Mb ram on a 3" screen on gingerbread. It still surfs the web, plays tuneinradio pro, runs skype, youtube etc. Most chinapads and phones have similar specs anyway.

    I do have an old LG gw600 flashed by cyanogen to froyo I think (I never updated it after that) with a really ancient 600Mhz cpu (OC to a whopping 800Mhz) and (I think) 256Mb RAM. Just about every service has been disabled on that "phone". That is an internet radio "wifi only" phone running tunein radio pro only (it does have a samba server on there too so I could push music to the SD card but I havent really needed to). I recessed the phone into a pair of old "shelf end" speakers and that works just nicely in the conservatory. On the odd occasion I switch it off it does take a good minute to power on but consumes very little power and works nicely.

    As an analogy, XP is a perfectly reasonable operating system and works on older hardware - unless you *need* the features of the latest OS then making do is fine (as long as there are no glaring security holes of course!).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Still Gingerbread?

      The latest 4.2.2 roms available are very good indeed.

      The best roms out there for the SII (I've tried many)

    2. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Except you might have forgotten One little detail.

      AFAIK: Google want nothing more to do with Gingerbread and are not developing it any more. So any minor (or indeed MAJOR) security flaws will be left up to the community to fix and, or address.

      Microsoft XP SP3, and O3k3 SP3 arin't quite as advanced.... Yet, but give it about another Year and ask that question again once Microsoft finally drives that Stake home. Unto both XP SP3 and O2K3 SP3

      In and of itself Both XP SP3, O2k3 SP2 and Gingerbread 2.3.x are indeed not bad but, there is something to be said about security patching. Thankfully for the most part Android isn't (or hasn't), been quite the sieve of security breaches that Microsoft are world famous for.

      Best get'chaself a copy of Windows 7 while you still can my dear lad. That or go Linux. Cause 8 is shite and everyone knows too....

  8. g e

    Windsor seems very keen on WinPhone

    While sticking the boot in a fraction too much on Android (though not necessarily wrong, just the semantics of how it was said) - what's his relationship to Redmond I wonder.

  9. Anonymous Coward 101

    Misleading Marketshare Stats

    It must always be remembered that when smartphone marketshare stats are produced that show Android trouncing iOS, they are essentially misleading because of all the cheapo Android devices that are classified as smartphones. Somebody in the market for a cheap Android was never going to buy an iPhone, just like somebody in the market for a Ford Fiesta isn't going to buy a BMW 5 series.

    It would be far more meaningful to show the marketshare of devices in different price brackets. A Samsung S3 definitely counts as a competitor to the iPhone, but a Samsung 'whatever-their-cheap-shit-Android-is-called-today,' doesn't.

    I do think Google will eventually have to optimise Android version 2.3 because of all the phones that run it, and (let's face it) will continue to run it for years to come.

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: Misleading Marketshare Stats

      Anything that has a Capacitve Touch Screen interface, and can use GAPPS inside an Android development IS A SMART PHONE YA TWIT!! Weather it's as nice as a Galaxy SIII or your Jebus Pone 5, is of course another question entirely.

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Misleading Marketshare Stats

      So cars should only be counted as cars if they can compete with 5 series??

      If BMW decide not to build sell anything suited to young girls without rich daddys that is their prerogative.

      But I would point out that most of the cheapest droids would outperform iPhone 1 on any measure. Does that mean iPhone 1 isn't a smart phone?

  10. thesykes

    So, some analyst somewhere produces a report that says Android is fragmented, it's this, it's that.

    Of course, all these analysts only give the world the benefit of their immense wisdom as a favour to us all, as in reality, they're all multi-billionaires following their shrewd investments over the years on the technology trends they are so brilliant at forecasting.

    It's not like they pluck numbers and thoughts out of their arses and try and be controversial or stick Google/Android/Microsoft/Apple in their article titles to just get clicks, is it?

    1. Ian McNee

      Or worse?

      Some analyst sitting on a pile of Apple stock that has fallen by 30% in the past five months is worrying about how he will confinue to fund the condo, kids private education *and* his coke habit? "Hey! Let's roll out the hackneyed Android Fragmentation scare story - there's plenty of tired tech journos out there to spread some FUD!"


      So in an open free-market ecosystem some companies make crap? *yawn* bears-trees-poop, meh.

      When you can get a good SIM-free ICS smartphone (e.g. Huawei Ascend G300) and a good 7" JB tablet (e.g. Storage Options Scroll Evoke) for a little over £200 it's bleedin' obvious to all those who aren't supping the Cupertino/Redmond kool aid that Android fragmentation ain't the problem it's cracked up to be.

      On and just how much quality smartphone+tablet hardware and software can you get for less than 250 notes from Apple or a Windows source?


      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Or worse?

        I don't disagree with you but isn't the problem more fundamental than that? Analysts get paid to say stuff. They'll still get paid if said stuff is inane or obvious or misleading. They only only don't get paid if they don't say anything at all.

      2. Justice
        Thumb Up

        Re: Or worse?

        I agree. I picked up 2x Huawei Ascend G300 running Gingerbread for the Kids at Christmas.

        Less than £100 each, upgraded both to official ICS and in many benchmarks outperforms kit twice it's price.

        Even an old HTC Desire running Evervolv ICS still cuts the mustard as a decent Android Phone.

        (once you sort out extending the system memory to an SD partitiion)

        The wife's Samsung Fit I'm planning to upgrade shortly will probably have similar results.

        You most certainly can teach on old phone new tricks.

    2. Steve Evans

      Amusing he picks MS as the way to do it... Aren't there a load of recent Nokia customers stuck on 7.5 because their reasonably new handsets won't run 8?

      That sounds like fragmentation to me, which is impressive given then minor market share.

      (And yes, I'm ignoring all the earlier mobile windows versions).

      1. David Beck

        How few is still a "load"?

        "...Aren't there a load of recent Nokia customers ..."

        I'd venture there's not "a load of recent Nokia customers" in any state, given there's not a "load" of recent Nokia customers.

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Problem will sort itself out

    Either Google will have to do an Android 4 Light without so many hardware demands (GPU, memory, etc...) or they'll find themselves in the situation where they'll be forced to support 2.3 forever.

    In the remote case that they decide to let 2.3 rot (doubtful, they want the data) something like Firefox OS/Tizen/Sailfish will ship with a Dalvik interpreter.

    1. fandom Silver badge

      Re: Problem will sort itself out

      Indeed, it is not as if hardware will keep improving.

      If you don't believe me you only have to look at desktop and laptop computers, have you ever seen, for example, Intel releasing new CPUs that were any better than the preceding generation or at least somewhat cheaper?

      You have? Yeah, sure, next you'll tell me that you can buy android 4.x tablet for less than 200€.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Problem will sort itself out

        The latest versions of Android are targeted at high-end mobile hardware. Even though the hardware and Android changes over time, that doesn't change this fact. If you look at Windows on the laptop/desktop the same is true.

        So either Google willingly lock themselves out of the low-end market, in which case a lighter OS will appear with a Dalvik interpreter to fill the gap because people even customers with low-end mobiles like their Android apps, or they're going to have to do something about it.

        Perhaps I should be an analyst.

        1. fandom Silver badge

          Re: Problem will sort itself out

          "If you look at Windows on the laptop/desktop the same is true."

          Indeed, after all, when was the last you could buy a budget computer running the latest Windows?

          You can? Yeah, sure, next you'll tell me there are Win8 PCs for less than a thousand euros.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: Problem will sort itself out

            If you can still source an Atom netbook with Windows 7 (eBay maybe) you'll find it's a cheap slow experience.

            You can go for a top notch Windows 8 tablet/keyboard combo thing and, yes, it's expensive fast experience.

            See the point I'm getting at?

            1. fandom Silver badge

              Re: Problem will sort itself out

              "See the point I'm getting at?"


              You mean that windows vista would run better on that netbook, since it is an older OS, you also mean that Win8 crawls on a 400 quid desktop.

              You also mean that it would make sense for Google to devote resources making an Android 4 Lite for current low end telephones, the kind that won't even be build a few months from now, because, somehow, that's a better use of resources than developing Android for the devices that will be build next year.

              Both Apple and Microsoft would love Google to follow your advice.

              1. Dan 55 Silver badge

                Re: Problem will sort itself out

                Vista on a netbook running better than 8? That'd be like Android 2.3 running better on a low end mobile than 4...

                Also note how iOS 6 doesn't have a light version and it drags on older iPhone models too.

                Also note how WP7 phones couldn't be updated to 8 due to hardware requirements, they had to make do with a simple makeover (7.8).

                Finally as Apple and MS have no low-end OSes, it's up to Google to decide if they want to give up the chance to harvest that data as that's what Android is for and the low end is where the growing market is (developing world). If they decide to give that chance up then Firefox/Tizen/Sailfish will step in and as they are lighter weight and Dalvik will get put on them either officially or unofficially as the OSes are Linux-based and not locked down.

                And so the prosecution rests

      2. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: Problem will sort itself out

        In all fairness I'm typing this up on an AMD64 3000+ Socket 754 System @ 2Ghz IIRC. I Must have bought this like in early 2005 or 6 maybe? I did replace it for a while with an Intel C2D system. But thats been relegated to pulling HTPC duty for yonks now. And even that Sytem is like nearly Seven Years old now. Both systems were capable of running vista more or less fine. As much as I was willing to test it back then. And now they are both running some version of Linux Ubuntu 12.04LTS for the HTPC, and Mint 14 on the Desktop. The only upgrade I'd like to make is to my Netbook cause the 1 Core Atom is S L O W as shi* running Windows 7. Somethings telling me to burn it and replace it with Mint as well I just have to see.

        But to answer your question no I've never felt less pressure to update my Hardware then I do right now.

        That could also possibly explain why PC sales are so shtie too. (i.e. Intel / AMD haven't done jack with marketing the next MMX / 3DNow! wizardry on their CPUs and the World has gone to bed.

    2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Problem will sort itself out

      Android 2.3.x is still getting new releases. 2.3.8 - Gingerbread 8 - is around but I am not sure it is official yet.

      Windows still had the 95, 98, ME series when they also had NT 3.x, 4, 2000 and these overlapped for several years.

  12. John Sanders

    Come on....

    "For years El Reg wondered what the consumer electronics world would look like if the software was free. Now we know, and it's a rather depressing sight. Hardware manufacturers take the savings, pocket them, and cut the corners on the hardware."

    Utter and complete disappointment and disagreement reading this (AKA: IT'S BOLLOCKS)

    I run a Samsung phone (Good hardware for the money) using CyanogenMOD 10.x tell me which other ecosystem will allow me to run a phone using a supported modern OS without any link to any commercial entity, as I do not run the Google applications.

    I would say that is a triumph, is it perfect? no, is it much better than anything else that came before for the end user? YES, do the majority of phone users of the world care about me running a free operating system, no sir.

    But from there to say it is depressing... what would you expect? having hundreds of manufacturers in a market and having all of them get a proportional piece of the market, ie 5 players with 2% of the market each?, all of them selling essentially the same product? with the same capabilities?

    The software is all that matters in 2013 (It has been always like that, hardware is nothing but the means, not the end) And having free software running not just on a phone, but on a majority of the phones is FANTASTIC.

    At the peak of Apple's dominance with the iphone it looked like they would dominate the smart-phone market, and suddenly it is Samsung the one that looks will dominate... It was not that long ago that HTC looked like Samsung today...

    Perhaps the author of the article just laments the lack of success of Windows phones, and would prefer a market dominated between Apple and Microsoft with the Android handset manufacturers in a distant third spot.

    Because having Apple and Microsoft, dictate the direction of mobile computing will be such a good thing.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Come on....

      Don't know who downvotes this. Have an upvote.

      "would look like if the software was free. Now we know, and it's a rather depressing sigh"

      That's all about the free things are bad for you and your neighbours and won't enable you to collect the Intellectual Property Riches that you, as a Creative Person, so richely deserve" meme propagated by some. But you know that.

      It's the same as if you read an article by Krugman in the NYT. There will be at least one statement to the effect that "printing money and state intervention saves the economy". All empirical evidence collected since 1920 says NO in bold letters, but that doesn't stop the author from clinging to his cherished view (which opens up the doors of the political cocktail parties, natch).


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