These Charts Show Why Developers Are Frustrated With Android

As our special report on the mobile platform wars shows, the percentage of developers expressing interest in Android has been decreasing since last fall, and almost three-quarters of new project starts are on iOS rather than Android.

One big reason is fragmentation.

Google updates Android at least once a year, but phone makers are under no obligation to update their phones to the latest version. Worse yet, phones come with a wide range of slightly different hardware specs, including screens of many different sizes and resolutions. Developers can’t possibly tweak their apps for every device, which means that the experience is worse on some phones than others.

Here are some charts that show just how fragmented Android has become. They were compiled by OpenSignalMaps, which offers an Android app that lets users see where their wireless coverage is strongest. (The data is crowdsourced.) Over the last six months, the company has logged the model and make of every single Android device that’s downloaded its app.

From a total of 681,900 devices, there were 3,997 different device types. The most common one (green box) was the GT-I1900, more commonly known as the Samsung Galaxy SII.

Android fragmentation by device

Photo: OpenSignalMaps

Here are the most common devices by brand. Samsung has 40% of the market, based on OpenSignalMaps’ download records:

Android fragmentation by brand

Photo: OpenSignalMaps

Lastly, here are the most common Android versions (API levels) in April 2012 versus a year ago:

Android fragmentation by platform edition

Photo: OpenSignalMaps

Very little has changed — Gingerbread (2.3) was the most common platform a year ago, and a slightly updated version of Gingerbread (2.3.3.) is still the most common a year later.

Platform fragmentation also appears to be getting worse: a year ago the top two Android versions made up 90% of all the devices downloading OpenSignalMaps. Now, it’s closer to 75%.

This is just one app developer’s experience, but it maps to what we hear when we talk to smartphone developers: the proliferation of device types and inconsistent platform updates make Android far more challenging to develop for than iOS is.

On the plus side: all that choice is great for consumers.

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