Android fragmentation has long been the bane of Android developments. With such a large amount of freedom, those with Android devices have often chosen to run a variety of different versions of the Android OS. As of 2014, only 1.8 percent of all devices were on the most recent Android release, KitKat (4.4). A staggering 20.0 percent of all users were still on Gingerbread, released back in 2010, and the majority of all users were on an early iteration of Jelly Bean, released in 2012. Each developer, from Samsung to Lenovo, has its own versions of the Android system, and they aren’t always upgraded to the current release.
Developers are required to work around multiple platforms and test their applications throughout these platforms to ensure that their applications will work on all versions of the Android. Android fragmentation therefore greatly increases the complexity of the programs released for the Android OS, and has a tendency to discourage developers from working on the platform entirely. With almost half of all Android OS users on operating systems that were released in 2011 or earlier, Android developers are also not able to utilize more advanced technology and there’s no way of knowing what changes have been made by the producers of the equipment.
Why is fragmentation such a large issue with the Droid?
The Android OS runs on many more mobile devices than any other type of operating system. With this type of market penetration, it stands to reason that many devices are released into the market running a variety of versions. The Android OS is a free operating system that can be modified by developers as desired and it does not require that it be upgraded, either by the developers of the mobile devices using it or by users. Comparatively, the Apple iOS will alert users repeatedly if they have not upgraded and only the most recent versions of the iOS are ever released on a device. Ultimately, the reason that fragmentation is so prevalent is because the operating system itself is used throughout so many unique devices.
Is Android fragmentation always a negative?
Android fragmentation may not always be a negative thing. The fragmentation of the Android OS is actually the end result of something positive — the ability to tailor the Android OS into something that meets anyone’s needs. “Android fragmentation is the end product of a unique operating system that is free to use and easy to develop for, and it is an environment that may ultimately foster innovation,” said Android security expert. “Thus, fragmentation may actually be beneficial for users — provided that developers can handle the modifications. With continued compatibility assurances throughout the OS system, Android fragmentation could become a nonissue.”
Dealing with fragmentation from a developer’s standpoint.
Developers for the Android OS cannot take anything for granted and do need to rigorously adapt their products for a variety of systems. Luckily, Android has attempted to enforce compatibility between products as best as it can. While there may still be challenges for Android OS developers that don’t exist for iOS developers, there are still enough benefits to outweigh these drawbacks. The Android OS is fragmented precisely because of its widespread market saturation, offering developers the opportunities to reach markets that they simply could not enter into otherwise.
The Android OS fragmentation problem is not likely one that will go away overnight. While many tech analysts believed that KitKat would resolve the issue, there hasn’t been any indication that it actually will. With as many Android OS devices being produced as there are, it’s highly unlikely that manufacturers will want to give up the amount of control they currently have over the operating system. Furthermore, the very nature of the Android OS — a free and modifiable operating system — does not lend itself easily to consolidation. For the foreseeable future, Android OS developers will simply need to understand and work around fragmentation.
About Author: Christopher is a writer for Android antivirus company Armor for Android. Christopher has worked in the Android security field for several years and provides content and advice to Android users.