Shut up about Android fragmentation already

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A few weeks ago OpenSignal released a report

A big one, with lots of fancy interactive charts and figures.

It said that there are a whole lot of Android phones

47.5 percent of the 682,000 Android phones surveyed were made by Samsung.

All of them running different versions of Android

By OpenSignal’s count, eight versions of Android are still in use.

People freaked out

The headlines started pouring out about how Android is doomed because it’s too fragmented.

Fanboys started arguing

It’s what usually happens when you mention “Android” and “iOS” in the same sentence on the Internet.

But more phones equals more choice

There are hundreds of kinds of Android phones, each with its own set of pros and cons.

And more choice is good

With Android you can choose a phone with a removable battery or a MicroSD card slot, if you want that feature, and you aren’t limited to a single screen size. With iOS your choices consist of two screen size options and two noncolor options. Talk about boring.

Ramon Llamas, a research manager at IDC says "Android fragmentation isn't something for consumers to get worried about."

Fragmentation is sometimes the first word you hear when a tech enthusiast describes Android, and the term has come to have a negative connotation—even though it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

You can't tell the difference between versions of Android you're running anyway

The experience doesn’t change much from one modern version of Android to another, and the best-selling phones all have some sort of skin running on top of the OS that makes it even harder to tell what version you’re running, short of digging through the settings.

But it is a problem for developers

Although Ramon Llamas says consumers shouldn’t be worried about it, app developers take fragmentation very seriously.

They don't want to make apps for all of the different kinds of Android phones

Smaller developers tend to avoid Android and create for iOS first because they don’t have the resources to deal with the many varieties of Android devices.

Your buddy with an iPhone gets all the best apps first while you're like

Remember, it took Vine 6 months to make it to Android. And Twitter owns Vine! Imagine how long the process takes developers that aren’t bankrolled by a multi-million-dollar corporation.

RunKeeper's lead Android developer doesn't think fragmentation's a big deal either

"[Supporting] multiple versions of Android does introduce additional engineering time/effort. [But] for the most part, we have not faced any problems that we were not able to overcome within a reasonable amount of time/effort."

—Adam Stroud

RunKeeper is one of the most popular fitness apps on both Android and iOS. Its dev team isn’t ginormous, and it isn’t the only developer that sees Android fragmentation as not that big a deal.

If your phone looks like this...


Your smartphone is essentially a small computer. It’s going to feel slow as time goes on because newer apps require more resources.

...You can't expect it to run this

Just as with PCs, if you want to keep playing the latest games, you’re going to need to upgrade your phone every now and then.

Fragmentation does mean you'll miss out on some updates

Besides bringing fancy new features, Android updates include security patches that help keep your phone safe from malware.

Especially if you have a...unique phone

"Some versions of Android used on specialist or niche phones rarely get updates—if even at all—regardless of how new they are."

—Mark Rogers, Lookout principle security researcher

Smartphone makers must heavily modify Android to get it to work on unusual devices—most of which never catch on. Supporting these unpopular phones with updates would cost money and resources that developers prefer to spend on updates for phones that people actually bought.

Every time Google fixes one hole, it makes another

The same vulnerabilities that members of the Android community use to root their phones are used by criminals who have more-nefarious schemes in mind. Not only are bad people using unpatched versions of Android to create botnets, but the Android ROM and rooting community gets pissed at Google when it finally gets around to filling in the holes.

But hey at least it keeps Russian hackers out of your phone

You’re more likely to install a legit app that violates your privacy than a virus that hijacks your SMS messages. Just use some common sense and stop looking at so much porn on your phone.

You know who else is fragmented?

Android runs on thousands of different hardware configurations, all made by different companies. Google just provides the operating system. Does that sound like any other extremely popular computing platform you know?

Android is like Windows except with less of this guy

Google lacks a sweaty, bald CEO. They’ve only got cofounders that give sad speeches on stage.

And more of this guy

Armando Rodriguez

Ever since Andy Rubin left earlier this year, Sundar Pichai has been running the Android show. He’s also the guy in charge of the Chrome team, which makes superexpensive laptops that don’t do anything but browse the Internet.

Besides, Google doesn't care which version of Android you have

Google has been slowly breaking apart Android so that everyone runs the same GMail, Maps, Play Store, and Chrome apps even if they don’t run the same version of Android.

It's still collecting your data and using it to slowly take over the world

It should be no secret that Google collects your data every time you use one of its services.

It won't be long now before Android runs on everything and Google has its fingers in every aspect of your life

This is, after all, the same company that is developing self-driving cars and wants to use balloons to bring Wi-Fi to everyone.


This story, "Shut up about Android fragmentation already" was originally published by TechHive.

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