Fragmentation, what is it really?

Posted on Oct 24 2012 - 2:44pm by Mike Wewerka

Fragmentation is something that Android fans don’t like to hear or discuss—because it’s like being told you’re going to your grandmothers house for Christmas, instead of staying home playing with your toys— it’s true and they just don’t want to hear it. While I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this topic, because I believe it has been beaten to death, I do want to clarify some points, or at the very least vent my frustration, with some of the inaccuracies that I’ve seen written elsewhere, mainly in the comment threads of other sites.

With the announcement of the new iPad, I saw a comment from some ignorant Apple-hater who said that Apple fans can no longer bash Android about fragmentation, because Apple is “just as” guilty, now with a new device and a new screen size. Apparently there are still some people who believe that’s the real issue with fragmentation… screen sizes.

Multiple screen screen sizes and resolution in and of themselves do not create fragmentation, especially if the SDK of the OS supports the function to handle those differences, which both iOS and Android do, the problem of fragmentation comes from multiple OS versions, that also include those multiple resolution and lack others. The other problem with multiple versions of an OS is that many of them offer features and functions that early versions don’t and because of this fact, developers become frustrated because they have develop their apps to work on several variations of the same OS and in many cases they get frustrated and give up or it takes them much longer to release an app.

So let’s look at the iPhone and iOS, yes, there are multiple version of iOS but Apple as of right now doesn’t even sell the 3GS any more, but it still runs iOS 6, granted it may not have had some of the more power hungry features like Siri or Flyover in the maps app, but neither of those two items prevent developers from making apps that still work on the 3GS. With the download available to all iPhone users, from the 3GS and up, if someone who owns one of those devices does not have the update, it’s their fault, not Apple’s. Just because the iPad Mini now has a 7.9-inch screen, doesn’t mean it will cause fragmentation, the fact the resolution is the same as the iPad 2, means developers, with very little effort, can scale their apps according with no problems. An app that is created for the iPhone 5, will work one the iPhone 3GS and vice versa.

Let’s look at Android, which is currently on 4.1 aka Jelly Bean which was released in June and yet we’re hearing that the new Nexus 4, which will debut next week may come with Android 4.2. It’s bad enough that 4.1 is only installed on 1.8% of all Android devices and it has been out for 5 months, what’s worse is that Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, which was release almost a year ago is just over 20%, while Gingerbread (2.3) which was released two years ago is still king of the mountain with over 57%. So what does this mean for developers? Well for one, since Gingerbread, we’ve seen screen sizes jump to over 5 inches, which 2.3 doesn’t support. We’ve also seen new features like Android Beam, Panoramic pictures, Face unlock, a brand new Holo UI, Google Now, Project Butter all of which users on 2.3 can’t use, meaning developers have to take not of that and decide which features they want to support and which ones they don’t.

When a developer has to develop for more than one OS at a time, that is fragmentation and in Apple’s case, with over 200 million people already on iOS 6, that’s half of all the iOS devices sold and it’s only been available for about a month, again if people aren’t on iOS 6, they either have an outdated phone like an iPhone 3G or they just haven’t updated for some odd reason. But with Android, developers have to develop apps with Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean and now 4.2 which may be Key Lime Pie, that’s 6 different OS version that are all still being used.

So when an ignorant hater wants to call out Apple fans for trashing Android because of fragmentation, he would be dead wrong. While Apple fans can be pricks for doing so, they still aren’t wrong, Android is fragmented and with a new version coming within 6 months of the previous version, it’s only going to get worse and this time, Google’s the only one to blame.

Header Digital Art by Charles Csuri