Android’s Crazy-Quilt Syndrome

There’s no question that Android is fragmented. OpenSignal has counted nearly 11,900 distinct Android devices so far this year, compared with fewer than 4,000 last year.

OpenSignal’s visual representations of the number of devices and the brands are a welter of shapes and colors. Think crazy quilts sewn by demented craftspeople inhaling non-tobacco substances.

Android Device Fragmentation

Android Device Fragmentation
(click to enlarge)

The results of fragmentation are mixed.

“In some ways it helps developers by bringing them to a larger market, but in other ways it makes it harder for them since the product is harder to refine,” James Robinson, chief technology officer at OpenSignal, told LinuxInsider.

Indeed. “Developers have to work harder to support Android because they have to make decisions around screen sizes, OS generations and specific devices to support,” remarked Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC. “Many low-end Android devices are used as feature phone replacements and their users rarely run apps … so developers have to prioritize.”

On the other hand, the level of competition among Android device makers “has driven prices to such a point where it’s possible for many to get a smartphone when they couldn’t have otherwise afforded one,” Robinson pointed out.

Getting Down to the Numbers

OpenSignal’s statistics were drawn from 682,000 unique devices that downloaded its app. This is the same number of devices that supplied the statistics for last year’s fragmentation report.

Fragmentation has tripled, with even more obscure devices from around the world downloading OpenSignal’s app this year.

These include the Exagerate XZPAD700, the Turbopad 1000, the Piranha Business Tab 10.1 Zeus White, R09 Crystal Apples, Wiko Cink Pezx, Unusual Vortex Dual and Pentagram Eon Prime 2.

It is not only the device market that’s fragmented, but also the OS itself. There are eight versions of Android currently in use.

Gingerbread runs on about 34 percent of the devices, the Android developer dashboard shows. Jelly Bean comes next with nearly 37 percent between its two versions; and Ice Cream Sandwich takes up just over 23 percent.

Honeycomb and Donut are at the bottom of the list with 0.1 percent of devices each, and other versions of Android make up the rest. Google doesn’t count anything with less than 0.1 percent of devices.

Multiplying and Being Fruitful

“The availability of Android in open source for device makers to make any kind of device they like has been a key ingredient in its market dominance,” IDC’s Hilwa told LinuxInsider.

“It’s easier to get a basic version of an app running on Android than it is on iOS, but it’s harder to polish it and make sure it works on all devices,” OpenSignal’s Robinson said. “Apps failing on specific devices cause headaches to both developers and consumers, so it’s true that the increased consumer choice doesn’t come without its challenges.”

What’s in It for Devs?

Prioritizing development targets works to some extent. Most developers focus on Gingerbread and later versions of Android, which gives them “around 95 percent of the market without having to trouble with all the API levels,” Robinson pointed out.

Flurry Analytics’ figures tell a different tale: Devs have to support 331 Android devices to ensure their apps run on 90 percent of the connected devices currently in use. Going down to 80 percent will involve supporting 156 devices; 60 percent will mean optimizing their app for 37 devices; and 50 percent, 18 devices.

The time and cost of optimizing and testing apps means few developers make more than US$500 per app a month, VisionMobile reported in January.

Devices running iOS average 14 times the number of active users that devices running other platforms do, Flurry said. Perhaps devs should continue focusing on iOS.

“It’s all about the available content and applications, and fragmentation is really bad for the developers who make these apps,” Simon Khalaf, CEO of Flurry Analytics, told LinuxInsider. “If fragmentation continues to hurt the developer, then less content will come to these devices — and consumers will suffer.”

As for OpenSignal’s crazy-quilt visual representations, “data visualization is key to any type of research,” Khalaf said, “but art is another dimension.”

9 Comments

  • I sense someone is trying to sell something, somehow, with these old statistics. The whole piece miraculously overlooks the actual NEWS this week, which is just how much Google Play services ELIMINATES Android "fragmentation" for many practical purposes. Strange that I learn more at Lifehacker than at a Linux magazine.

    lifehacker.com/why-google-play-services-are-now-more-important-than-an-975970197

    It does suck that manufacturers don’t support their phones very long, and that security issues may never be patched. But it’s not bad for developers. Their apps run.

    • The difference is the mobile market lives and dies on the quality and quantity of its apps and being so fragmented along with studies showing the majority of Android users won’t buy apps but the opposite is true of iOS makes it just a smarter move for a dev to support iOS.

      But to me what is really gonna bite Android in the behind is the security and the risks caused by so many new devices using no longer supported versions. When I bought my Android phones recently I KNEW that it was running Gingerbread but this didn’t bother me since I had already found an image for that phone that would let me customize the heck out of it, even running an OCed kernel if I desired. The problem is just as Joe and Jane Public have no clue which OS their laptop runs other than "Windows" so too do they not know Ice Cream Sandwich from Apple Pie and when those brand new 2.x devices get pwned (seriously go look at walmart some time, to this day the majority of their Android devices are running Gingerbread) who is gonna get blamed? Android is gonna get blamed, that’s who.

      So while I’m glad that the Play store still supports phones like mine Google really needs to run an education program, maybe by buying ad time on popular shows, to explain the differences and show Joe and Jane how to tell if that new device is running the latest and greatest or an old version.

      Because if you look at the figures and how many old versions are still being sold (in fact I recently came across low end tablets brand new running 1.6) its just a matter of time until Google gets their own netsky or Code Red and when it does folks are not gonna want Android anymore, as it is they think mobile doesn’t have to worry about AV and malware, when that perception changes there WILL be a big backlash and THIS is why fragmentation is a real problem.

      • That would be completely counterproductive for Google to pay for ads to explain to users how bad their phones are. It would make far more sense to push the phone manufacturers behind the scenes and to set an example with the Nexus phones, which is what they’ve been doing… to little effect. 🙁

        It must be very difficult to protect and promote a brand (Android) that is at the whim of manufacturers and carriers who don’t give a flying F.

        Not that Google is an angel by any means.

        By the way, your netsky/CodeRed theory is ass backwards. Which makes for a more attractive and successful worm target — a completely homogeneous base where everyone’s running pretty much the same thing with the same vulnerabilities (Windows, iOS)), or a heterogeneous base with extreme diversity?

        "Fragmentation" isn’t the issue; manufacturers and carriers not supporting their own products is the issue.

        • Sorry but unlike the Android phones which are no longer supported the vast majority of Windows systems get monthly patches so if you want a Windows analogy it would be like if a large group of OEMs continued to sell Windows ME systems and because of the lower prices became incredibly popular.

          Last figures i saw had Gingerbread the #1 used version of Android and since there are KNOWN major vulnerabilities which will NEVER be patched (in fact the only patch I know of requires the user have the skill to root the phone which most can’t accomplish) so its a VERY juicy target. After all not only do you have a no longer supported OS but you have major vulnerabilities that are easy to pull off AND a userbase that believes their phones aren’t threatened.

          And what do you think will happen WHEN, not if, a Code Red or Netsky hits all those old versions? Android’s rep will be seriously damaged, possibly even killing the OS as folks ran to tablets and phones expecting them NOT to deal with AV and patching and all the mess, if a virus causes many to have their CCs stolen you can’t even imagine the damage to the brand it’ll do.

          So in this case its very much in Google’s interest to let Joe and Jane know the difference, not only will this let them make a more informed choice but it’ll push the OEMs to release updates for their devices. As you note they’ve had zero luck in getting OEMs to move, in fact the majority of devices sold at the big B&M are Gingerbread, so keeping these OEMs that refuse to take the free update when it puts so many at risk? Its not a smart move and I bet Google will get bit in the behind.

          • Sorry, but that’s a rather hilarious assertion considering that the two worms you keep citing are exclusive to Windows systems. And I’ve seen WindowsUpdate fail spectacularly far more often than I’ve seen it work as intended. It’s a badly implemented system, and/or maybe it’s up against too difficult a task.

            Your ad idea could only successfully be implemented as a branding exercise, not a "check your version" advisory, which would be a foolish thing for Google to do. Far better for them to follow Intel’s obnoxious "Intel Inside" / look for the union label model, and refuse Android (or soon Chrome) sticker labeling to manufacturers who don’t update their systems on time.

          • Uhhh are you REALLY that clueless? REALLY? I use those as examples as they are more well known, type in "Android malware" into any search engine and see how many hits you get, I got 4.1 MILLION hits on that search.

            But hey, you keep right on sticking your head in the sand and slurping that koolaid, I’m sure it will end as well for you as it did those Mac Users…or are you gonna claim as they do that viruses don’t count, only worms do? BTW for your education here is just a partial list of Android malware that has come out, and this list is over 2 years old, but it will give you a nice taste of what is possible, including keylogging, remote control, stealing data, lots of nasty things..

            http://hackmageddon.com/2011/08/11/one-year-of-android-malware-full-list/

            BTW your "Windows Update fails all the time" is excuse #17 on TMRepo, just FYI..

            http://tmrepository.com/trademarks/imaginaryproblemskillwindows/

            Ironically I can cover pretty much ANY rebuttal using just the top 20 on TMRepo, the reason why of course is the same excuses are used over and over AND OVER. But bad practices are bad practices and nothing you can say can make an out of date unsupported OS anything but a bad idea.

          • Sensed unwarranted name calling; I’ve now skipped your entire post (really, I haven’t read it) and will ignore you going forward. You should be a nicer troll if you expect to engage people.

          • Translation..when a post with citations shows up and ALL I can retort with is touchy feely anecdotes i’ll blame the poster and pretend all is good in candyland.

            BTW congrats, Android just reached 1.1 MILLION infected, reported last week, just FYI.

  • Fragmentation will be the downfall of Android in exactly the same way it was for the ice cream industry. Had only they stuck with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry they might still be around.

    Jokes aside, does anyone know when, where or by whom Android’s flexibility started getting spun as a bad thing?

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