Android’s “fragmentation problem” has become a familiar trope in the tech press, but is often not explained further. The platform’s fragmentation problem is two-fold. First, Android is tweaked by manufacturers like Samsung or HTC to their own liking. This means that Samsung phones are different from HTC phones which are different from LG phones, etc. It is then modified again for every device they produce, which is how you end up with this:
Part of Android’s allure is the range of devices its manufacturers offer to meet consumers’ wide-ranging needs, which helped propel the platform to an over 60 per cent market share in a few years. However, it can become a real headache for developers who need to troubleshoot their app for the software’s innumerable little iterations. The iPhone, for comparison, had the same screen size until the release of the iPhone 5.
Android then gets even more fragmented with every subsequent software update because it has a hard time getting users to upgrade to the most recent version of the platform. As of October 1, 56 per cent of Android users ran Gingerbread, released in late 2010. This means developers are unable to reach a majority of Android’s users with the platform’s most advanced features. As we discussed earlier today, 60 per cent of iPhone users have upgraded to iOS 6 some two weeks after it was released.
Android’s fragmentation, along with a significant monetization gap, is driving down developer interest in the platform. According to Appcelerator, developer interest in Android phones fell to 76 per cent last quarter from a high of 87 per cent a year prior. Appcelerator’s Mike King told us that 94 per cent of developers not working on Android cited fragmentation as their primary reason. Despite its heft, this could become a major problem for Android down the line. As we’ve argued before, developer market share is the long-term key to the mobile platform wars because developers create the apps that draw consumers to their phones.
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