It's fun to say Android is fragmented on the Internet.  All the cool kids and blogs do it, they even make fancy misleading charts about it.  While there's more than one side to the argument -- choice versus fragmentation -- only the most rabid fanboy would say that it doesn't exist.  I tend to think the whole issue is living with the choice you make.  If you want the "Android" experience, buy a Nexus phone.  If you prefer the experience an OEM offers, buy one of their phones.  Both are the right choice.  But there's an underlying issue that gets forgotten when we talk about updates and versions -- security patches.

The diversity of Android gives us a chance to have this user experience regardless of the platform version it's built from.  That doesn't make the want for the new software any less, but it a fair trade for most people.  Ice Cream Sandwich looks a whole helluva lot like TouchWiz 4.  Security issues are another matter entirely.  HTC had a recent issue about user privacy, have a read if you aren't familiar (be sure to read HTC's response as well).  They caused it.  They quickly pushed out a patch to at least one carrier to address it.  All security issues need to be addressed this way.  If HTC, or, Samsung, or LG, or Motorola -- whomever -- builds the OS and sells it to the carrier, they need to follow up with security patches in a timely manner -- either by updating their base to the latest Android version and building their OS with it, or patching the issue themselves with the current code base.  Users deserve the benefit that patches to the bootloader, or browser, or whatever, much faster than companies and carriers get them rolled out.  Yes, that responsibility is shared by the carrier as well.  While they aren't the people responsible for updating the code and building the operating system, they are the people that accept your money for the device.  Carriers and OEMs need to work together to keep the phone secure for the life of the product, even if they don't work to keep the software version current.

On the enterprise side of things (something that OEMs are starting to take more seriously), this becomes critical.  Companies simply can't sit back and ignore the fact they aren't getting security patches, because their money is on the line.  Documents, contacts, and communications need to be secure as possible, and when cracks in the armor are found, the patches need to come quickly.  They don't, and this is a problem. 

I know that making sure your phone isn't susceptible to the latest bootloader hack isn't near as glamorous as getting Ice Cream Sandwich, or even Gingerbread.  These few words can't make that happen.  But I think we need to be pointing out the right issues -- not having a phone that is secure for the life of its contract is one of them.


Reader comments

Android 'fragmentation' -- why it really matters to you and me


I for one am really glad to see an article like this, although I think the title "fragmentation" is misleading, the article does touch on the big picture, security and basic OS support of these devices. For as much as these devices cost, it would be good to see more focus placed on the supportability of such as well as the overall "quality" functionaility of the devices. Overall, this was a good read.

Much of this problem could be solved if less stuff was bundled in the software and more was available in the market.

Why is the UI something that can't be chosen by the user without rooting the phone? I can switch from KDE to Gnome to XFCE on my linux boxs in a heartbeat, yet we are still stuck with this Windows mentality about UI changes in Android.

Why does upgrading the stock browser require a carrier or manufacturer OTA update? Why can't the bloatware be deleted?

(My wife recently got an Atrix 2, and was pleasantly surprised to be able to delete much of the carrier installed bloatware. Why isn't that the norm? )

This problem is of Google's making. The took an operating system that was totally modular and made way too much of it monolithic.

There is no reason the kernel can't be updated directly from Google without getting the carriers and manufacturers involved. Has google totally forgotten about backward compatibility in new kernels? Do I have to call Dell each time I get a kernel update for OpenSuse?

If you are like 98% of android users this means nothing to you. You buy your phone, use it till you are sick of it or upgrade it when you drop it.

But as long as carriers subsidize phones we will be stuck with this model.

I totally agree that this is all of Google's making. As the patent wars continue, allowing the OEM's to customize and fragment the platform may give them a way to hold their hands up and deny any infringement, just saying. Another theory possibly the OEM's are using the custom code on their devices as a way to leave devices behind for the next new shiny object they produce. Samsung Galaxy S devices are a good example. Vibrant, 4G and S II are basically all the same phone with variants to processor and other features, however, would I be able to run ICS on my Vibrant if I had a stock ROM ? and maybe not upgrading my phone over a longer period of time, ending in a month to month contract that opens the door to jump carriers. Not much into conspiracy, but I wonder!

this doesn't eliminate fragmentation.

i've never worked for moto, sammy, htc, lg... but in an industry that's driven by producing the coolest phone with latest tech simply to stay relevant, i would suspect that the emphasis on sustainment isn't a key priority for these OEMs and carriers. as i said, i don't know what their organization looks like, but the length time it takes to push out updates to OS indicates a lack of resources to address the issues because they are focused on getting the software ready for newer phones ready to make more money. once the phone is sold OEMs are done making money. and carriers just have to get you on contract... again no obligation to sustain a product they've already got you on the hook for.

and this is where rooting phones becomes increasing popular to people wanting the latest OS and tired of OEMs and carriers draggin their feet. if you want the latest OS on your phone, you have to root it. why? because there are a slew of devs out there willing to sustain it... and it doesn't cost the OEM or carrier a dime. the other option would be to buy a new phone.

I agree, rooting can help with sustainingg the OS. However, I've wondered what role has rooting played in OEM's support offloading to the Root Dev's. Don't get me wrong, I support rooting, however, when you have dropped $300 - $600 $'s in a device and experience problems with simple things like call quality, bluetooth, gps to name a few, that are fixed by those who dev root roms, I see a problem. I can't call the root dev and say "Hey, I loaded this rom and I don't get GPS lock". But I do expect, if I have that problem with stock phone, the OEM and carrier to be responsive and responsible. Maybe my wishful thinking!!!

agreed, we should be dealing with responsive OEMs. but in many ways that timeliness is actually MUCH better with devs. sites like this and others have ROM devs glued to them and responding in a much quicker fashion, many times to specific problems only a handful of people are experiencing.

if i was the CM team or any of the other devs, i would be creating a Android Dev Alliance of sorts to contract with OEMs and carriers to do maintain the updates, etc WITH them as opposed to the way they do it now trying to crack the case and get around it. in other industries, sustainment of products actually reaps in HUGE amounts of money compared to the actual point of sale totals.

Now that is something I could by into. However, we still need to solve the problem of OEM custom ROMs, before that happens. But good point!!!

This just makes me wish that we had more effective ways of supporting our root devs, monetarily... Donations are one thing, but you can't make a living off developing ROMS and Kernels. These people spend way too much time in their lives, while still working or going to school, to not get paid as much as someone hired by the manufacturer who isn't implementing any prudent, timely changes.

id be curious to know how many of us OG owners out there would have stuck with it so long had there not be a cult-like following of devs out there to support it.

from what i've seen (mostly lurking) in the various forums for years, devs don't do it for the money. but that aside, they surely could make a good deal more if they pooled their resources and offered something valuable to the OEMs and carriers in the way of sustaining devices.

at the end of the day tho, that would mean the carriers want this. what they really want is you to buy another phone or sign another contract. they don't make money when you're happy with the phone you've got now.

"Buy a Nexus phone" is easy to say, but harder to do in practice. No one even knows how to buy the Galaxy Nexus right now. Most carriers will not be selling it this year. Some may never sell it. Has a US-based lower-cost carrier ever supported a Nexus phone? Android is supposed to be about more choices, but the extremely limited availability of Nexus phones gives Android users less choice than iphone.

android is about choices.

the limited availability of nexus to specific carriers doesn't eliminate that. you still have your choice of dozens of other high-end phones across any carrier you want to choose.

True, the only problem I see is with US Carriers, they sucks, sorry but I wish it was like in Europe, which you pick the phone you want and use it the carrier you please, not because one phone comes in one carrier, and you cant get it without switching company.

" Android users less choice than iphone"

I laughed. Apple prides itself on providing as few choices as possible.

Yea its so funny......

Android world you have so many phones many that are the same with a different name confusing consumers and then you have the iPhones with a few choices of storage size making it very simple to choose from. Thats funny hahaha.

The carriers and OEMs are full of it on these updates. It simply should not take this much to get out simple security patches. I think if anything the OEMs should have to prove to Google that they can maintain their customizations while keeping up with patches in order to customize. Otherwise they need to sell stock Android with some graphical changes. And honestly how many of their customized UIs are actually pushing sales? I'm willing to bet they could all do better on stock.

This exact issue comes up far too often during Android vs iOS debates and is as big a thorn as Apple's non removable battery if not bigger.

Why should you have to have a phone that has a removable battery? If it was a good reliable phone which doesn't drain the battery to begin with you wouldn't have to worry about removing the battery.

Think about what you are saying!!

If its that important that you have a removable battery then you have a flawed phone.

I'd like to know about this magical phone that doesn't drain the battery ;)

But to answer your question: batteries wear out. They lose capacity as they are used. Having a removable battery eliminates the need to pay someone to replace your battery for you or to try to crack open your phone yourself in order to replace it. Think 2-3 years from now.

Another scenario is when people don't have access to a charger for extended periods of time. Having a backup battery can be a life saver.

When you manufacture for sustainability or maintainability you should make the component(s) with highest probability of failure as easily accessible or removable for minimal mean time to repair. If you low failure phone core hardware then why not make the weak link easily maintainable the battery. I understand and agree with most phone removable battery. I also understand and agree with Apple's fixed battery they have a more probable failure component. Still baffled as to why Apple hasn't installed a removable screen though :$

what i'd like to know is why only specific carriers/OEMs are experiencing the security holes. it's not like every android device is seeing the same issue. so what are OEMs doing to android that open up these vunerabilities?

i suppose that sense, blur, whiz are all custom ROMs in a way, but i would think that the core of android coming directly from google would be secure... and if it's not, then the updates should be rolled out directly from google.

if you're running windows and there's a security issue... MS immediately dispatches that, regardless of the OEM.

er,do you live on the same planet,do you know how many known holes win has? no,either does ms,that's why we all run other security on top,cos ms are so quick,there is at least one hole that's been known about by ms for 7months,its still not been patched over,wonderful.

i guess my point is that you don't see moto pushing out the security patches that HTC phones are experiencing. in that sense, windows is a more unified OS because it's tied directly to the source.

so you've found the mythical secure computer system,or as you have just accused others of your spouting crap,please tell us what this wonderful secure system called,we can all get one.
there are NO secure connected devices available, perhaps but not yet,its all a compromise between ease of use amd security,if lazy/stupid people get stiched through their phone,more fool them for believing rubbish.
try using debit cards and fake personas,in other words do what everyone else does and lie.

I find it strange that there are fans of an operating system that is owned by mega corporations out to make money and then complaining that the operating system has too many things in it that will sell things to you. They are a corporation that's what they do. Open source software is great. I love open office and it's utterly horrifying bloat. You see none of these devices that you guys crave happen because of openness and other cool hippie beliefs. It's about cash. So grow up and bite the bullet and accep the fragmentation for what it is. If you are smart enough to root and load in your own os then that separate you from fanboys who say there is no fragmentation.

"Ice Cream Sandwich looks a whole helluva lot like TouchWiz 4." If you look back to the last 'fragmentation' article I believe I said this in a comment...
TouchWiz haters looking forward to ICS be shocked! It's just a souped up version of TouchWiz 4.0. OH NOES! D:

In all seriousness, I love TouchWiz 4, I'm excited to see how ICS improves on it.


I was actually pondering this topic for the past week or so.

This is a great concern of mine. I have always used blackberry devices. About 6 months ago I decided to switch to Android, because I was sick of not being able to use data on a smartphone the way I desired.

I knew that I would be sacrificing security using an Android device, due to the fact that the Android OS is "widely" available to developers and device manufacturers.

My question that would make a good follow up article is how effective are third party apps, such as "lookout" able to secure information on my device?

We are all aware that cyber crimes will only grow with smartphone growth.

If Android is a prime target due to being an easy target I may have to return to Blackberry (assuming BBX is worth it), or the iphone.

Yet another typical article from jerry where the body of the article doesn't bother to relate to the title.

It's Microsoft vs Apple all over again, but this time it's Android vs Apple. Apple lost before because they controlled the platform and Microsoft won BECAUSE of fragmentation and licensing the SOFTWARE and not trying to control the hardware! It's in the history books and history has a tendency to repeat!

There is one important difference this time around, however. While Windows is deployed across a wide variety of devices from multiple vendors, the Windows experience remains in tact across those devices and Microsoft supports them with updates.

With Android, neither of those things are true. Android differs from device to device and Google provides little or no support in terms of software updates.

i love android, i've pushed really hard for the powers that be at work to support the devices.
the argument i can never get past is security (i also think security is a losing battle, you'll never be totally safe no matter what)
but as the article states, bugs don't get fixed in any sort of timely fashion. it's not google's fault. it's the phone vendors/carriers. they slap their mostly awful skins and apps on top of it and then a new version comes out and it either takes forever to get it updated or it just never gets done because they've moved on to the next device. android will unfortunately never be totally viable in a corporate setting until this is addressed. i honestly don't think it ever will.

If there was no fragmentation then all android phones would be running the latest version of the Android OS. Instead we have multiple phones in the wild some that are the exact same phone, but named differently. Some have large screens some have small and its just making a mess of the market. There are so many phones its confusing for people to choose.

There is fragmentation in the Android world.....just admit it. Its articles like this that drives the iPhone fanboys in!

Also who cares about the grammar, if your worried about it go get a degree and teach it to students.

I personally had no difficulty choosing the Thunderbolt. Is it really that hard to spend your money on what you want? Maybe I'm an informed consumer...but if that's the case then fragmentation is not the culprit. Ignorance and ignorant consumer are always at a disadvantage and taken advantage of by the informed, because our society's economy allows the greedy to thrive. Educate ourselves and stop looking to blame other people or companies. This is buying consumer goods not an Affirmative Action initiative.

Only person I know who has a hard time buying a cellphone is my grandmother...and do you think she can use a touchscreen, let alone read these little ass letters. Lol. I love ky grandmother... Granny Nazis with your too many choices!

It really doesn't matter, Android OS is just like Windows OS was years back. They throw it out there for all to use so they get the marketshare. To some though it does matter because its a huge mess. With Windows you could at least build your own computer. Can't with a phone, you have to buy someones garbage.

All it will do is get Android out in the lead and it will get the viruses and what not just like Windows did until it becomes a bahemeth that everyone hates and starts looking for an alternative.

The few smart ones will stand back with their iPhones laughing at the mess as we have with our Macs running OS X all these years!

So far its been a trip watching the Android Market App Store copy get slammed with viruses and then watch Google silently try and clean it up as Andy Rubin denies that Android has fragmentation as this article tries the same thing. Also funny is how Eric Schmidt runs down the patent system while they are out trying to buy as many companies as they can to get the patents to try and protect themselves because they are built on lies and stolen IP. The company is full of liars/thieves and you all support them! I don't get it! And another thing Eric Schmidt is out saying Android OS was out long before IOS, yea in a sense that is true, but it looked exactly like the blackberries hardware and OS until months after the first iPhone and then all of sudden the OS and hardware changed to look like the iPhone because everyone knew that was the next best thing and Blackberry garbage was on its way out.

Jerry is talking about security patches. He should change the title because fragmentation really has nothing to do with the version of the OS that you are on. Totally misleading title, and Idk why he titled it that way in the first place. And apple doesn't steal anything? I mean Jobs even admitted that they do. Get off your high horse you clown every company takes things from other companies. If you don't support them go to tipb or another site since android is all liars and thieves.

I must be in the minority because 'HONEY BADGER DOESN'T CARE' and either do I. As a linux user I embrace fragmentation. So if you ask me there isn't enough of it. I seriously want to see how far Android can be pushed in all directions. I want to see more variety of form factors like what they did with that Galaxy Note. I want to see less of the same like all of the clone tablets and more of Fusion Garage's 'Grid' method of organizing apps into sectors. Nothing personal, but much like the comments the more they are the same the more they are annoying. 'ARE YOU PICKING UP WHAT I'M LAYING DOWN?'

Fragmentation is not a Google issue. Google releases the code and it is up to the handset manufacturers and carriers to implement it. For example, the HTC Hero was never updated past 2.1 even though Google has released 2.2, 2.3 and now 4.0. Both Sprint and HTC can't honestly say that the Hero won't run 2.2 or 2.3 because we all know better. What the Hero may have problems with is all the trash that gets put on top Android by the manufacturers and carriers. Carriers being slow to roll out updates is another issue (ex. Sprint had the Photon silent call fix from Moto almost two months prior to launch but didn't release it til after many people returned their phones). Also what would be the monetary benefit of updating a device when you can simply force consumers to buy your latest greatest. It's all about profit and has nothing to do with consumer/device support. In short, if you haven't harassed the manufacturer or carrier about lack of updates and get together with others to boycott said offender then you have no room to talk.

On the flip side. If you control the OS and device and can tell the carriers "My way or the highway", fragmentation is at a minimum. Perfect examples are Apple iPhones and the Google Nexus line.

For my personal phone I use an android a Google Nexus S for work I use an iPhone 4s because I know it'll always be secure with new patches and everything else I love my android phone but have to use an iPhone for work. We have never had an iPhone broken in too they all have passwords set by are admins we had android phones for work for a while but one was broken in to and we had some sensitive client data get out because it had a older version with no patching to secure it

I love Android, but it is quickly reminding me of another OS I used to use: Symbian. Anybody remember how fragmented Symbian was? Android is not that bad....yet. It could get there if Google doesn't do something quick.

I've been saying this for the longest time and finally a real problem has occurred that may force Google to do something. The buck has to stop with Google. Since ICS was developed to fit all screen sizes, anyone should be able to port it to their phone. Once done, you should receive updates directly from Google. All Google needs to do is partner up with Cynogen and help them make unofficial official ICS updates. Microsoft has done the same thing with Windows Phone and partnered up with ChevronWP7. Why can't Google do the same? All I know is that they better move quick. The Windows Phone Team will use this against Android every chance they get.