Does Android “fragmentation” actually affect end users?

Ever since 2009, I’ve been hearing a lot in tech blog posts and the media about “Android fragmentation.” No actual Android user I know in real life has complained about it, though. I’ve also noticed that criticisms about so-called Android fragmentation tend to be quite vague.

From Android fragmentation is real:

For Joe Average, this created an ultra-confusing marketplace where operating system versions changed every few months. It also meant that compatibility issues were inevitable.

What compatibility issues? Examples?

From Ask Maggie: On waiting for a Verizon iPhone 5:

But one of the problems that Android has is that it’s very fragmented. Even at the smartphone level, different devices run different versions of the Android OS and that means that not every app runs every device.

What apps? Examples?

On my MyTouch 3G (the original), I’ve used just about every version of Android there is. 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2. Some rooted. Some OTA from T-Mobile. I’ve experienced no problems as an end user in terms of applications having compatibility issues. Some of the more graphics-intensive apps don’t run well on my 528 MHz processor with 192 MB of RAM, but that’s regardless of what version of Android I have—my phone just isn’t that powerful, so Angry Birds will just not run well on it. That has nothing to do with “fragmentation.”

Some people who want to make a big deal about Android fragmentation will point to an interview with one of the Angry Birds makers (Peter Veterbacka) in which he says

Android is growing, but it’s also growing complexity at the same time. Device fragmentation not the issue, but rather the fragmentation of the ecosystem. So many different shops, so many different models. The carriers messing with the experience again. Open but not really open, a very Google centric ecosystem.

but they seem to ignore that when asked directly about Android fragmentation being an issue, he says

Fragmentation on the device side is not a huge problem, but Steve is absolutely right when he says that there are more challenges for developers when working with Android. But that’s fine, developers will figure out how to work any given ecosystem and as long as it doesn’t cause physical pain, it’s ok;-) Nobody else will be able to build what Apple has built, there just isn’t that kind of market power out there.

That doesn’t mean that model is superior, it’s just important to understand that Apple is Apple and Google is Google. Different. And developers need to understand that. Different business models for different ecosystems. And wouldn’t forget about Nokia and MeeGo either, new leadership always tends to shake things up and create opportunity. And HP-Palm. And RIM. And even Microsoft. It’s a fragmented world.

If you actually own and use an Android device as your primary phone, how (with specific examples) have you found so-called “fragmentation” affecting you? Which applications do not work on your version of Android that would work on another version? Why do you think people don’t make as big a deal about “Windows fragmentation” (Windows 98, 2000, XP, Vista, 7) or “Mac fragmentation” (Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard)? Am I crazy for thinking Android fragmentation is a non-issue?

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4 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I am running Android on my HTC Desire… I see lots of complaints about Android fragmentation. Seems like this became favourite topic lately. But I have not found any reasons to complain myself. Everything works fine on my phone. If it does not, it is simply bugs or lack of functionality, because it is the same on other phones.

    Maybe that all is just a marketing move from MS or Apple to take part of Android pie?

    With same success you can talk about Linux fragmentation (Slackware, Debian, Redhat etc) or car market fragmentation (BMW, Ford, Honda). All cars are compatible to certain extent. They use same petrol, but different engines and seats.

  2. The only thing that I didn’t see mentioned here that I think *does* affect a lot of end-users is the fact that some apps only show up in the Market on certain devices. That’s pretty frustrating, esp. when your friend finds NetFlix in his market but you can’t.

    I know /why/, but I’m saying that this is one source of end-user consternation.

  3. The problem with the Netflix app is Netflix, not Android. Netflix has arbitrarily decided to limit the Netflix official support to a handful of Android devices. If you have a rooted Android phone and change the build.prop text file to identify yourself as another phone that is officially supported, you can run the Netflix streaming app on just about any Android device.

    Fragmentation is just an excuse.

  4. I’m running Froyo on a Pantech Crossiver, and I hate my phone . I love Android, but I hate all the mods Pantech gave it. I don’t do anything about this because I’m always scared that something will go horribly wrong when I try rooting ti, and I will be rendered phoneless. I wish that I had waited a few weeks for the Galaxy Nexus to come out, since it will be running Ice Cream Sandwich and it will be pure Google since it’s a Nexus.

    I haven’t had any problems with my phone related to apps, though. Everything that I want to run runs on my phone. The only app I want that won’t run on it is Firefox, but I can deal with that. I just wish that Android had a Python interpreter.

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