Jan-Lukas Else

Thoughts of an IT expert

Android and the Fragmentation Problem

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Short link: https://b.jlel.se/s/47
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Guess what one of Android developers’ biggest problems is! Well, guess what? It’s the fragmentation! And who’s fault is it? Google? Nope, the manufacturers!

Android Distribution

Just recently the latest data, the current version distribution came out and the (almost) latest version Android Oreo 8.0 was just 0.5%. This is one of 200 Android smartphones running Android Oreo?!

Google can no longer be accused of doing anything about the fragmentation, the slow spread of newer Android versions. With Android Oreo, they have taken important steps to make updates easier for manufacturers.

But in my opinion, the main problem lies with the manufacturers. Apple has no such thing as fragmentation. Within a few weeks after the release of a new iOS version, more than half of all devices are already running this new version.

But with Apple, everything comes from a single company. The devices they sell for an incredible amount of money, the software and also the App Store. So Apple earns more or less money not only from the device purchases themselves, but also from the app purchases of the willing users (who are almost all willing to pay, otherwise they wouldn’t have bought an iPhone first).

The good, but also the bad thing about Android, is that everything doesn’t come from a single source.

First of all, the good thing: thanks to Android’s openness, there is a competition. Manufacturers must advertise for customers and offer them special features that the competition does not have, or they must sell the devices for a better price than the competition. Android also makes it much easier to replace the pre-installed software with another one, such as Custom ROM, and thus escape the Google compulsion or to remove annoying bloatware. And last but not least, you don’t have to install apps from Google Play.

The bad thing: fragmentation. But why? On the apps and other services, only Google itself actually earns through the Play Store. The manufacturers earn money solely from the hardware they sell, so it is logical that their goal is to sell as much hardware as possible in order to increase the profit. But if you as a manufacturer want to sell a lot of hardware, it is actually counterproductive to take away the reason for a new purchase from the customer by providing updates. In other words, if you don’t provide updates, you can sell more devices.

I suspect that average users don’t mind whether or not they get updates, but updates are important for security reasons alone. For example, if a security hole in the WLAN protocol is not closed, it’s easy for fraudsters to intercept certain data. (But most of the users probably have no idea what the newest operating system version is anyway.)

Fragmentation is also a nightmare for developers. Not only do some vendors change the system in such a way that certain things simply work differently than on other devices (Samsung…), they also have to pay particular attention to the backward compatibility of the apps, i. e. they also have to run with older operating system versions. A lot of time is lost, which could have been used to make the apps generally better, safer and more functional. (I speak from my own experience!)

I personally put my hope in those who know that updates are important and show this with their buying decisions. Those who buy a smartphone only if they know that updates will be available in the near future (and please do so as soon as possible and not after one year). If they also use their influence on their surroundings and advise potentially unaware people before making a purchase, it may be possible to show manufacturers that although updates seem uneconomical at first look, they are a good way to retain customers in the long term.

Source: Android Developers

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Jan-Lukas Else
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