The meaning of 'fragmentation' tends to mold to whatever the argument is, for good or bad

I'm sick of it, you're sick of it, everyone who knows much of anything about Android is sick of it. "Fragmentation" is a word that gets bandied about when it comes to Android more frequently than just about anything else. It turns out that an open source operating system installed on devices made by hundreds of manufacturers all over the world, many of which don't really care whether Google releases an update, creates an unstable ecosystem.

Who knew.

We all know the answer we want to see in response to suggestions that Android is too fragmented to be functionally compared to other platforms in the world today. It took a little while, but Google came up with an Answer. The almighty Google Play Services, a suite of apps and tools that glue multiple versions of Android together into a mostly similar experience that any manufacturer can have access to. All those manufacturers have to do is agree to play nice in Google's sandbox, and basically do whatever Google says.

And Google says that 93% of all Android devices that they monitor are using the most recent version of Google Play Services, which means even if those devices aren't using the most recent version of Android they have access to almost all of the new features Google has announced within the last year. And 93% isn't bad at all, right?

So what's the problem here?

There are Android devices, and then there are Android devices.

The truth is neither Google's numbers, nor the most recent stats shown by the folks at Open Signal, offer an appropriate understanding of Android as a whole. If anything, that's the real problem when it comes to talking about Android as a platform. Google is perfectly happy talking about Android in terms they can control, meaning things with Play Services installed. And for the most part, those are the only numbers that many of us even care about. What we saw from Open Signal this week is the entire Android platform, with and without Google's services. The truth is, while we've been chilling out inside of Google's calm and friendly borders, the Wild West of Android devices has grown into something that is nearly impossible to properly define.

What do we consider an Android device? That sounds like an obvious question with an obvious answer, but is it really? Do we hold the aquarium controller with Android installed on it to the same standards as the HTC One M8? They both run Android, sure, but much in the same way that we accept how Linux distributions are not actually the same thing despite all being called Linux it seems like Android as a single unit shouldn't actually be considered as such. If I buy one of those $40 Android-on-a-stick kits that are out there and connect it to my TV so I can build my own home theater setup, should that really be counted in the same lot as my LG G3? Of course not, and more importantly these aren't devices that Google includes when they announce things like the 255 million phones that were shipped with Android installed in Q2 of this year.

Kindle Fire HDX 2

There are some really good 'fragmented' ecosystems outside of Google's control.

It doesn't make sense to try and fit the entirety of Android into a single silo, but it doesn't make sense to only count things with Play Services installed either. With platforms out there like Amazon's Kindle Fire and Fire TV, Nokia's short-lived efforts, and manufacturers like Archos who stick to not needing Google, there's a lot of "no man's land" Android devices out there that lack a label. Even if Play Services are being considered exclusively, what about the Android devices that have had Play Services sideloaded thanks to the teams at Paranoid Android, AOKP, and so many others? The only thing we know for sure about how Google presents this information to us is that it is entirely at Google's discretion. We don't get details, and in most cases questions don't get answered. All Google has to do in order to make it look like the part of Android they have any control over is less fragmented is change the list, and since it's their list that is something they can do without telling any of us.

And what about markets that don't rely on Google Play but still use plenty of Android phones and tablets? China, for example, has an app store and services catalog that is totally separate from what those of us in the U.S. and UK use. These services tie into Chinese social networks and are essentially contained in their own space. While China is also commonly seen as the place where clones for almost every popular device comes from, and there's no real way to regulate how Android gets used there when compared to Play Services agreements, this is still a massive market of users that don't fall under the Play Services umbrella but still deserve to be part of the conversation when talking about Android marketshare and fragmentation.

Android fragmentation is still a conversation well worth having, but each of those conversations need to start with some kind of scope and definition. Android OEMs that are sitting inside of Google's Play Services sandbox have gotten better about updating their devices, and Play Services does a decent job filling in the gaps, but there are still plenty of devices that don't fit inside of this description. It doesn't make any more sense to talk about every single thing running Android than it does to only talk about the things with Play Services installed, unless you start that conversation with the appropriate context. If we only talk about things with Play Services installed, or if the conversation shifts to every single thing with Android installed on it as though that is something Google has any control over, we all lose.


Reader comments

Android Fragmentation — the seemingly impossible conversation


In the UK Fragmentation is caused by Networks doing there own thing
many making a mess of the firmare and doing it for there own gains so we don't see what the Manufactures want
Then you have the manufacture there a pian
in the UK we do not get the Phones with Stock android and if we did they would be sold out
all Google has to do is stamp down on this and state that all manufacture have to put stock or the ability to have stock android on
But Updates are used to sell a phone the S3 has missed out on 4.4 samsung say its because it has not gout the memory
But the bring out a Galaxy Ace a lower spec phone with this on
It all boild down to money abd Manufactures and Networks get them sorted and Google will win

Think he might mean the Google play editions with never get a look in outside of the USA.

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On a tablet I think it is fine but on the phone I think that skins do it better. In my humble opinion stock is nothing more than a base that NEEDS to be expanded by the skins. Look at how the Nexus 5 fared. The Camera sucks because it is very barebones (Both on the Nexus and on the next best thing, the Moto X), the battery life is atrocious anymore (it started off ok, but has gone downhill where skinned phones on the same OS have either stayed the same or gotten better), and when I want one of those "cool features" from other phones I have to go through the playstore and find one (of 1000) that does it half as well as the real skinned feature does it.

Stock is a base and it should remain that way. It is something to be built up by the likes of LG, Samsung, HTC and even CM and PA because they can do it better.

Now is there a cost to it? Sure. ROMs are bigger and sometimes slower (some of that is by design believe it or not) but the days of actual "Laggyness" are long gone with the advances of hardware. Take the S5 and the G3. people talk about lag and stutter like it is 15 seconds to open the phone app which is GROSSLY exaggerated. The .03 seconds that it takes to open anything is acceptable. Nothing is instant on.

Purists want stock and that is great, it should be an option but it is not the gospel that many people, on sites like this one, make it out to be. It has as many if not more drawbacks as TW, Sony, LG and all the other skins with the exception of Sense. I really think that they do it right and have a great balance between the two. If they fixed the darn camera and made it with a replaceable battery (not a big deal at all there) it would be phone of the year for two years running.

If I am not clear, please feel free to let me know, and I did not take it as an attack but thanks for the clarification.

Well said for the most part, but the N5's camera is pretty good now (not the Moto X's though). Also, with Android L, the N5's battery life has gone up drastically, and I imagine OEMs won't adopt it very quickly. Even if they do, they would possibly reduce battery life.

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When you take the top three (sony, Samsung, LG) and compare them to the bottom three (Moto, HTC, Nexus) there still is a huge gap. The Nexus and X has improved but not to the point where you can put there within spitting distance of the others.

L cannot be included in the conversation right now because we honestly do not know where it will end. There is a measurable increase right now, but we do not know what compromises may come with the final product. My basis is on what we have now and it could change with what we get.

Truly I do not get why the camera on the X and the Nexus is so bad. They have all the tools to make it good, but it almost a conscience decision to force you to find a third party solution to it. Nothing short of a hardware change will help HTC.

I can't argue with any of that, I think for the most part you're right. The idea of a stock experience has more to do, I think, with living in the past a bit. There was a time when the skins manufacturers used were bloated, buggy, and slow-not to mention the space they took. While they still take up space-too much for my liking-we also have the ability to accommodate them.

tl:dr old habits die hard.

I kind of agree, but I primarily like the Nexus line because it's really inexpensive and has nearly top-of-the-line hardware. If I'm going to upgrade my phone ever year, $350 for a Nexus vs. $700 for a One or Galaxy S is a significant difference. If Google returns to selling their devices for around the same price as OEM flagships, I'll ditch the Nexus line in a heartbeat.

Also, I don't have any use at all for the majority of the features provided by OEM ROMs, and recreating the ones I would use via third party apps is pretty cheaply and easily accomplished. The only exception there is the camera, because the problem with the Nexus camera isn't the app (which I think is fine, really), but the image signal processor. Google really needs to get their shit together there, and I have no idea why they haven't poured more resources into that by now.

I hope one of two things for the nexus. I either want it to die totally, or I want it to become an actual consumer product. It is time to shit or get off the pot. I see them going more in the direction of consumer product with the recent moves that they have made (Now Launcher, taking KNOX, and a few other skin like things) and I am fine with that. I hope they keep the price as well, even if they have to meet the OEMs half way, that is a win for everyone (800 vs 350 = 600). Not sure what that would do for you, but a vast majority that take advatage of and "easy pay" kinda plan would see a difference....

I completely agree with that. And I assume that that is exactly the direction Google is planning to go with Silver. I really hope that Silver represents a combination of the consumer-friendly things that Google and OEMs have done with Android (customizability, features, OS-level developer support) and the consumer-friendly things that Apple has done (leveraging their brand to keep carriers' hands off). I wouldn't blink at paying $600 for that.

Maybe it is my perception but I see silver like GPe. We saw no discount on those.

I guess I am just looking for a middle ground for the majority and Higher choices (like the Note series) and lower choices (like the Moto G) for everyone.

The answer is tobuy unlocked phones rather than buying them from your network with a contract, that way their bloat and filthy custom ROMs can't touch you.

The S3 isn't getting updated because it's getting old, true there's a lot of them out there, but they're probably selling very few new ones.

Posted via Android Central App

Why do you even discuss "fragmentation" ? How does it affect you? Are you unable to "service" multiple fragments? Are you Google? Or do you yourself own that may "fragments" ??

You... Do understand the concept of journalism? Right? You do realise this site isn't just one random guys tech blog?

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That's possible... But I don't think so.

The point stands about journalism. If he wants to know why we, the community, care about fragmentation it's because we care about android as a whole, if we didn't Phil, Jerry, Richard, Alex et al would be out of a job.

Not to mention there are some of us sitting on smaller fragments which are missing out on updates and the functionality they bring.

Correct me if I'm wrong, his point was "I don't care about this, so why should anyone else?".

Posted via Android Central App

This is the most civilized disagreement I've ever seen on this site. Can one of you call the other an idiot or a fanboy, please? I'm getting uncomfortable here.

I can tell you that as an Android developer, fragmentation most certainly affects me. Knowing the rough percentage of devices running particular Android builds can help in feature prioritization, because there is a big difference in underlying API capabilities from 4.2 to 4.3 and again in 4.4. Google Play services have nothing to do with that feature gap, but NotificationListener and RemoteController certainly do.

Those people don't know what google play services are because google lies on the io. Look at the article, it says "which means even if those devices aren't using the most recent version of Android they have access to almost all of the new features Google has announced within the last year. And 93% isn't bad at all, right?".
And this is completely wrong statement because play services are providing just google services APIs and thats all.

Exactly. When it comes down to it, it is about APPS and compatibility of those. We still having companies saying things like "Available for the X and X and X" and some users are left out in the cold, even if they have the same version of Android.

And developers have to write the software to the least common denominator. They don't want to write for 4.4 right now, they will write to 4.1 or something... so it takes years for new features in Android to make it into many (if not most) mainstream apps... or worse, a developer has to create multiple versions of the same app (even if they are rolled into one) trying to cover all their bases.

I think "fragmentation" is less of a problem than it used to be, but it is far from a non-issue. But it is also the nature of something that is more open and is not likely to change much.

It is inherent in what it is (Open Source). I still think that Google need to do a better job of cutting back on the number of devices that are released each year with an OS that 5 versions behind. They can do it easily by not certifying them for the play store.

I guess that it really would not matter though to journalists, they would still call it Android and fragmented.

As long as there are multiple manufacturers, multiple carriers, multiple phones with different hardware and skins, there will always be fragmentation. Period.

That's what I was saying look at the s5 it has some of the features shown in android L but runs 4.4.2 because it's has Sammy's skin

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You are comparing the Future to now. Not something that you can actually do and be objective. Besides, 4.4.3 and 4.4.4 were mostly crap to fix the Nexus and not relevant enough to fix/upgrade for anyone but Nexus and Moto

No. If anything it will make it worse. Its gong to completely replace Dalvic and some older apps that ran on Dalvic may not run on it if the Dev doesn't test and update it. We all see all the app updates we see every day and its easy to forget that there are apps in the market that haven't been updated in months or even years.

Posted via Android Central App

Unlike KK, the version of ART that will ship with L is supposed to be 100% backwards compatible. There was mentioned during I/O.

Definitely. You can see that even in the L dev preview. There are a several apps, including a few from big time developers, that force close immediately on my Nexus 5 on ART, but run just fine in L preview on my Nexus 7 .

Journalist tend to forget that fragmentation now exists in IOS as well. I know people that are still carrying iPhone 3Ss and iPhone 4s that do not and cannot run IOS 7. Many apps are now being made exclusively for IOS7 so those with older platforms are getting left behind. It's the same in Android where apps are made to only work with 4.0 or better. It's how it works in the world of gadgets. I guess since Android commands something like 76% of the world market where IOS only commands like 27% it's an easier target really.

Yes..also what about Windows Phone? Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but none of the Windows Phone 7 Series phones for updated to WP 8.

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Beyond this, newer features often aren't backported. Apple gadgets may run the same iOS version number, but they aren't running the same version.

Please please stop saying that with gogle play services devices that aren't using the most recent version of Android have access to almost all of the new features Google has announced within the last year. THATS NOT TRUE.

Thats same thing. For example with android l Google introduced 5000 APIs and those are only available on l . Play services has nothing to do with that,they are just providing APIs for Google services (like g+ sign in, maps,device manager, Google play games).

IMO Fragmentation is a catch 22. If Google makes a change and says all devices must conform to that change or else they won't be certified, some will piss and moan that Google is trying to kill off open source, and becoming another Apple. Making everyone play only in the Google sandbox.

Those manufactures who skin their devices are accused of destroying the "pure" form of Android. Even if those skins provide the user with options that stock Android doesn't.

The average user won't care if the device runs pure stock, a skin, or an older version of Android. All they want is for their device to work day after day with a minimum amount of hassle. Advanced or power users will complain about a device such as the GS3 because it won't get the latest Android version. Which IMO is somewhat funny because they will usually be grabbing and using the latest and greatest devices anyway.

As long as Android remains open source this type of fragmentation will always be an issue.

From the DeathStar using my rooted LG G2

Ios didn't even command 27% of the world market. It's actually under 20% at about 17%. I've seen the number in a few different articles. Fragmentation should not be that big of an issue for end users. People buy Windows computers not expecting an OS upgrade. Why should they expect it with Android? If Android is seriously fragmented and that's a serious concern, then Windows and their fragmentation should be a serious concern as well. Yet it's not. Android is just about as stable as any other OS out there. Expecting your phone to get an Android update to the next version as part of the overall value of owning an Android phone is pretty silly. Just root the dang thing and flash a custom ROM to get the latest version or be happy with what you have. My Note 3 won't go past 4.4.2, but so what. It runs like a beast and has phenomenal battery life and runs just about every app out there. Fragmentation should really only be a big concern for the devs out there trying to reach as many Android users as possible and trying to stay caught up. Other than that there shouldn't really be a big concern.

Posted via Android Central App

Windows is an operatijg system
Investibg 100s of dollars every year when a new version is released isnt a good idea. Hence, people dont but them expecting an OS update. In India, the Windows 8.1 DvD costs Rs. 16000. Equivalent to nearly $271.
And Windows 8.1 was released after a little less than a year wqs completed of the Windows 8 release. That costs Rs. 10500 in india. Adding up tge two we get 26500 rupess of investment made into upgrading the software. Thats nearly $449.
See it does not makes sense
And now mobile phones are a wgole different ecosystem. They can be and are updated free of cost. Hence, it makes sense to have the new versions on every phone.

I'm curious, what makes you think your Note 3 won't go past 4.4.2? Samsung tends to keep things updated on their devices for 18 to 24 months. My GS3 got up to 4.4.x before I let it go a couple months ago. I suspect we won't see another big update for the Note 3 until after the 4 drops though.

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Okay wait
Having the same apps on different versions of android gives people the same "app" features.
Not the OS features.
See, I strongly believe this article is not so much justified

I understand part of what you're saying and I don't disagree, especially on the app and OS features. I'm sure that if the rest of your comment were less confusing to me, we'd be able to have a good discussion.

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Most Android phones you get from a carrier will never get updates. This is the biggest problem with Android in the US and why iPhones will always make up half of a carrier's sales.

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Do you have any support for the contention that most carrier android devices won't ever get an update? I find that extremely hard to believe. My last Verizon android got several significant updates over the two years I had it. My current phone has already gotten one update and its only a few months old.

I do not think anyone on these sites have cribbed anything since about age 3 at the latest (I worry about a few but will give them the benefit of the doubt)

If Google did not allow iterations made by hardware manufacturers, this would not be a problem. I do not see why these manufacturers can't just offer their own UI's as an aftermarket option. Consumers should be given the choice to apply proprietary skins and apps on the phone that they are buying. We have all been sick and tired of bloatware anyway. Why do you think we root our phones?

Phones should be programmed like the Nexus line, with pure Android experience. I believe this is where Google failed. The end result is fragmentation.

I have to disagree, manufacturers should keep doing what they are doing with the skins. It is one of the things that sets them apart from each other. People have choices if they want Vanilla Android, and if the demand was there, the Nexus line would do far better than it does.

Where I can agree with you is on some of the bloat. I have to admit that I have found uses for a number of pre-installed apps on my Note 3 that at first I considered bloat, but I would appreciate it if the OEMs made it easier to uninstall unwanted stock apps, particularly the carrier apps.

Posted via Android Central App

Manufacturers keep making tons of rubbish phones (multiple mid range and low end models) for no good reason at all.

The problem isn't mid range or low end models android itself should work on those specs but the problem is Google should take matters in hand and design a framework where an app store is the center of all. To tackle the fragmentation issue; android should work towards a framework where android (Google) should push security and newer version where the different phone/tablet makers should make launchers with a higher degree of access in android. This gives the consumer the choice to select and delete which launcher he/she wants and the phone makers can differentiate between them with their own launcher.

What bugs me the most is app compatibility, my HTC One M8 is compatible with Tiger Woods golf for instance, I game a paid for.

Google is pushing common core features and updates more and more through the Play Store and even hopefully more so as time goes on. But to have all the different Android phone manufacturers out there adding their own custom software and various chips, there is always going to be some fragmentation, Android is what you want if you want to be able to customize your phone software, choice of sizes, case materials, chip sets, AND not the locked in stone iPhone for the Apple kool-aid drinkers.

Play version of Android devices is not the same as android OS as a whole. That's like comparing Apple App Store version or Amazon App Store versions. Android phones = phones with play store + the underlying software security that runs on the phone. Google services like play store only protects consumers from apps that are downloaded from the play store. NOT anything else. Example, software can be vulnerable in numerous ways like side loading apps or opening links in stock browsers that are outdated.

Hi... I believe that:

1 - FRAGMENTATION DOESN'T EXIST: Nothing is being diminished, broken into tiny little different pieces and spread across the world!... The term is WRONG!... What exist on Android is MULTIPLICITY: Things are being added, expanded by OEMs, Developers, Etc...
On the Linux world of Distros each one is build by a group/company and so, naturally, each one makes different decisions from each other regarding Features/SDK/Etc; on Android world all Android comes from one single company that states what new new version will or will not be able to do/run and that is final, CM, Samsung, Etc don't build versions of Android, they actually build sub-versions of it, meaning that if Google's Android 4 does X so will Samsung's Android 4...

2 - UPDATES?: What is exactly creating this so called "fragmentation"?... Different versions of Android?Should Google stop developing Android so all the Devices would end up running the same version? Or should everybody be forced by Google to buy a new device every time a new version of Android is release?
FACT: Time passes, things changes and people that complaint about their devices not being updated are suffering from a "technical illusion" that the 5 years old, hardware limited device they have will magically be able to run 3D - 4K Videos and play hardcore games with a single update!... Hello?Where did the common sense go to? You get what you paid for!
FUNNY FACT: Most of those people mentioned above are still running Windows XP!... With the default Bliss Wallpaper! Come on !!!!!!!!

3 - EVERYTHING THAT RUNS ANDROID APPS CAN AND SHOULD BE CALLED ANDROID: After all this is why people buy Android Smartphones/Tablets in the first place... on Android you can add as much Apps as you want!... before Android the Devices were limited to whatever it had pre-installed and this ability to expand is what makes a Device "Smart"... Phones already had Internet/Media/Social before Smartphones!

4 - COMMUNISM/MONOPOLY OF TECHNOLOGY: Does anybody really want "one OS to rule them all" on all devices, the same way/shape/form/color/theme/etc on every single one??? ... I don't ! GOOGLE DOES!... ; )

P.S. What we call uniformity Google calls control and power!