Ever wonder why your Android smartphone isn’t getting the latest version of Android? Or why some apps are only available for iPhone? How about why your Android device was infected with malicious programs while others weren’t?
That’s because carriers, phone manufacturers, and app developers need to make every Android update, including security updates, as well as every app compatible and optimised for every single Android device out there. And that takes up a lot of time and resources.
It’s one of the biggest problems with Android.
OpenSignal, a company that maps wireless carrier signals, helps us visualise just how many different Android devices exist in the world with their handy graphic.
That’s right, every square is a different model of Android device.
Unfortunately, it’s not getting better. According to the OpenSignal report, Android fragmentation has doubled since 2013.
One of the main components that causes fragmentation is screen size. This is especially cumbersome for app developers, who need to optimise their apps for the countless varieties of screen sizes in Android devices so they look uniform on every device.
If app developers didn’t optimise their app for the biggest screen, the app would appear windowed and it wouldn’t fit the entire screen.
Now compare that to how many varieties of Apple devices running iOS:
It’s clear that iOS app developers have a much easier job to do when optimising their apps.
And of course, Google and app developers need to deal with the countless versions of Android itself that are still being used by innumerable varieties of Android devices. Most of them don’t bother with versions earlier than Android 3.0.
But the fragmentation of the Android operating system leads to serious security risks. Just recently, an estimated 950 million Android devices that run Android 2.2 and up were susceptible to a malicious program called Stagefright, which could exploit your phone via text message. You don’t even need to open the message to get infected, you just needed to receive it.
It seems that Google’s efforts to at least address the operating system fragmentation is working. According to OpenSignal, there’s been a slight reduction in fragmentation over the past year as more and more people are adopting a relatively recent version of Android, called 4.0 or “KitKat.”
But things like different screen sizes, screen resolutions, and hardware (like sensors and CPU) will still cause massive fragmentation, and there’s little that can be done about it due to the open nature of Android.
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