The Entire Android Ecosystem is Facing the Chill Wind of Android Fragmentation!!
Android is the largest and the most popular mobile platform with an 81% of the global market share in 2014. But it has some issues too; one of which includes fragmentation. Fragmentation is without a doubt, the biggest trouble that the entire Android ecosystem is facing. Android fragmentation is the availability of wide variety of Android devices and OS versions, leading to interoperability problems.
As per the report by OpenSignal on Android Fragmentation of this past August, there were 18,796 distinct Android devices, which were 11,868 in the year 2013, with different Android devices running on different OS versions.
Android OS is run on a wide range of Smartphone’s and Tablets, made by different manufacturers and all of them run on different OS versions. No doubt, this was the key reason due to which Android was able to capture a huge market so rapidly, but it also led to problems for Google. Have a look at the main issues, which the Android ecosystem is facing due to Android’s fragmented market.
- Whenever Google releases a new OS version, users generally get updates after a few months or sometimes don’t get them at all. The reason here is that Google releases only the core system when they release a new Android version.
- Releasing the updates or not is again dependent on the Smartphone’s manufacturer. If an OEM, deems a device to be too old or not worth the update, it will not release the update for that particular device or release only critical updates, if required. This again affects the users of that particular Smartphone’s range.
- There are many manufacturers using Android OS in their Smartphone’s like Samsung, Sony, Motorola and more. So Android cannot ensure that the requirements of all users are met or the users have a unified experience. It is totally dependent on these manufacturers on how they utilize the source code or make modifications.
- Moreover due to a large number of Smartphone’s manufacturers present in the market, each one of them like to customize their devices for an optimized UI or include unique features to the device for better user experience. This is where Android market starts fragmenting.
- There are many new Android apps available in the Play Store that do not run on old Android versions. The reason is that the Android app developers have to target a particular section of audience. So they will build their apps for a particular range of Android versions and lay focus on that particular group. This brings limitations to users who can’t run every Android app that is available on the Play Store.
- As per Google’s latest statistics as of April 6, 2015, Lollipop 5.0 version is running only on 5% of the Android devices and the update 5.1 running only on 0.4% devices. On the other hand KitKat dominates with 41.4 % and Jelly bean version runs on 40.7 % of the devices. Android app developers face difficulty in keeping up with this OS fragmentation.
- Many developers are still hesitant to invest in developing apps for Android Lollipop 5.0 and 5.1 due to their low adoption rates despite Lollipop offering a wide range of fresh and user-friendly features.
- Developers also face challenges in testing the apps on Android devices with different screen sizes and specifications.
- Android also released Android Studio, the new IDE for developing Android apps. Though it offers some new features which Eclipse didn’t have, but developers initially had to face some tough time deciding whether they should transit or not and in learning the new IDE including facing some issues.
- Providing technical support also becomes a challenge for developers due to availability of a diverse range of Android Smartphone’s and Tablets. Different versions of Android OS are available and the devices have different hardware specifications.
- Google introduced Android for Work to specifically target the enterprises. But the drawback is that it is created to work only on Android Lollipop version, which hasn’t yet received wide acceptability.
- The IT team of the enterprises also faces problems of providing support, as it is not possible for an enterprise to give enough support for every Android device and its OS versions.
- The mobile strategy of an enterprise also gets affected as they have to choose between different OS versions. The enterprises following a BYOD policy also have no discretion over the Android devices that their employees carry.
- Security is the most important aspect for every enterprise. Enforcing a uniform security policy and implementing hardware-level security across various Android devices is a very difficult task.
- App store fragmentation again is an important issue for an enterprise. There are numerous Android app stores, each having its own standards for approval and distribution. This lack of consistency in standards poses challenges to enterprises in framing mobile app policy. This also leads to security vulnerability issues with chances of apps having malware, thus giving a threat to enterprises’ security.
Google’s actions to solve Android Fragmentation problems:
- Google developed its own Nexus devices to help sort out this issue. Every year it releases new Nexus Smartphone’s and Tablets with the latest OS. But this hasn’t been able to solve the fragmentation problem as OEMs like Samsung, Motorola, Sony and others have significant market share.
- Google also released “Google Play” editions of popular Smartphone’s, running completely stock Android. This idea again didn’t work as these phones were very expensive and looked like an alternative to Nexus.
- One of the most important steps that Google took was launching Google Play Services to ensure that users get the latest Google APIs and security updates. This is quite beneficial as it runs on Android versions starting from Android 2.2 and is a platform where the all Android apps and APIs run.
- In 2013, Google launched Google Now Launcher in Play Store to help users customize their screens. All Android users have now access to Google Now launcher, its screen just a swipe away from users’ home screen. It has a good look and feel factor and gives a more refined look. This step was taken to give a unified user experience across various Android devices.
- With Android Lollipop, Google has updated all its apps like Gmail, Chrome, Google Play Store and others to give a new look and feel, similar to Lollipop.
Android is open source and that is its biggest strength. Fragmentation is the reason why Android has been able to achieve huge success. It definitely has some drawbacks, where the fragmentation caused due to different devices probably doesn’t seem to go away in near future. Google however is trying to overcome the fragmentation issues on the OS side by taking significant steps.
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