How Android’s Fragmentation Actually Helps Google

Most of the people who complain about Android’s fragmentation, probably bought the wrong Android device. Because to be honest, Android’s fragmentation really doesn’t hurt Google, it actually helps. When looking at the early years of Android, where stock versions of the OS were just down right ugly, modulated versions like HTC Sense, Motoblur, and TouchWiz actually saved Android. It allowed people to not only select from different hardware, but also choose unique versions of the OS under the same platform. All that mattered to Google was that they funneled into Google Play (formerly called Android Market). Because Android is basically free, getting more people into Google Play is how Google makes money.

Google also doesn’t care about its fragmentation problem, because they’re really not responsible for it. Because Android is open-source, manufacturers can operate on Android to create their own Frankenstein versions of it (HTC Sense, Motoblur or TouchWiz). But when it comes to updating the OS, all Google can do is update the stock version and push it out to manufacturers. It’s then up to the manufacturers to apply the changes in Android to their modified versions. But because manufacturers are more obsessed with getting you to go from device-to-device as opposed to upgrading your current one, planned obsolescence has never been greater on the platform. Of course all this could be resolved if concerned Android owners just bought a Nexus device (Galaxy Nexus), which runs the latest versions of the OS.

Another factor is the average consumer. Many have no idea they are running older versions of the OS, some probably not even aware it’s an Android. As long as the needs are met by the average consumer, and there is still choice, Android will be able to fill most consumer needs and continue to dominate the global smartphone market (68 percent market share). Because unlike the iPhone, which is polarized by the singularity of choice and price, Android has the flexibility to fit every niche and price point – largely because of its differentiation by manufacturers.

Then there’s also the flexibility of Android’s app ecosystem. When the iPhone 5 increased its screen size to a true 16:9 aspect ratio, many of the current apps that ported over to the new device had to letterbox (black bars) to accommodate to the added screen real estate. Because Android’s apps have had to consider more devices and versions of Android throughout their history, Android’s apps are more nimble to change than iOS’s.

In a perfect world, all devices, regardless of modifications, would be updated like Google’s Galaxy Nexus or Nexus S, but it’s just not the reality of things. Luckily, Google has found ways around this through Google Play, by offering “mission critical” apps like Google Play Music, Gmail, and Chrome as centrally-managed apps. This has eliminated inconsistencies that used to exist with the Android Browser and music player on older versions.

So if Android’s fragmentation bothers you, buy a Nexus device. If you care about fragmentation, but you purchase something else instead, then don’t complain. The Samsung Galaxy SIII is a great device, but wait a year into your two-year contract when newer devices are running Key Lime Pie (Android 4.2/5.0) and you’ll hate yourself. Android’s fragmentation is not changing anytime soon, and why would Google want to stop it? The differentiation that has caused its fragmentation has been a blessing since Android’s inception.


2 thoughts on “How Android’s Fragmentation Actually Helps Google

  1. Pingback: What’s Worse: Android’s Fragmentation or iOS's Planned Obsolescence?

  2. Pingback: Why Google Play’s Suite of Apps Need to be Available for iOS

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