Open Ballot: Is Android fragmentation a problem?

TuxRadar

This revealing chart is causing a bit of a stir around the internet. Basically, it points out one thing: that Android phones aren't guaranteed to get timely updates, or even any updates at all. Many devices are released with previous versions of the operating system, and fall rapidly behind, never getting to sample the latest Android goodness. Compare this to Apple, where the situation is somewhat rosier (although iOS has its own limitations as we all know).

So as we stoke the boiler for our next podcast recording, we want to hear your opinion: is this a problem? Have you bought an Android phone, and dismayed when you can't get the latest Android releases? Perhaps you've very carefully chosen a phone with a guaranteed update lifespan, or you simply don't care, and just want the beeping gizmo thing to work well. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and we'll read out the best in the podcast.

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Your comments

Might Be

Android fragmentation is a problem, but I don't think it is a big one. My friends are still using Android 2.1 happily without any problems at all although if you wanted to upgrade, you can always google. Cyanogenmod is a great example of what you can do if you are left behind

Yes and No

Fragmentation can be good for many of us in that we have choices in what we use. The problem with fragmentation is that it makes it more difficult to convert people to using Android. People don't know what it's supposed to look like or what programs it's supposed to use since we have so many choices. While this is a plus for us, most people don't take the time to try to get to know Linux. They'll just dismiss it as difficult to use and go elsewhere, even if we try to show them how easy it is.

I bought a HTC Hero mobile

I bought a HTC Hero mobile phone more than two years ago. HTC's Sense UI and driver restrictions (camera) always delayed the firmware updates, and my phone seemed to be always outdated by newer phone models.

I corrected the situation by rooting the device and installed various AOSP-ROMs to test them out. Currently my phone is running Android Froyo 2.2.1, even tho Hero's latest official firmware update was for Android Eclair 2.1 (Which was delayed more than 6 months).

My next phone will be Google's Nexus model. Most likely the Galaxy Nexus, because it wont be hindered by manufacturer's bloatware and UI-toppings.

Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) should change lots of annoyances with the Android platform. First off it should fix the fragmentation a bit by giving developers a more dynamic API to the hardware. Most UI-stuff should be able to scale between the large tablets and smallest mobile phones.

ICS also requires that all handsets will receive firmware updates at least 18 months after release, so the phones will not get outdated as fast.

One of the coolest features covered in Google I/O was the integration API for Arduino. I guess we'll have Android operatable robots, toasters and garage doors next year ;)

YES!

I hate reading news like "Device IO35 won't receive the latest Android...". I wish I had an iPhone.

No

I think this is a total non-issue. Anyone technical enough to care is technical enough to update the OS themselves using hacked ROMs or whatever.

Having said that, the phone providers really should do a better job of keeping things up to date. Not for any pragmatic benefit as such, just because it represents a level of quality, service and attention to detail which are the exact reasons people go to Apple. Selling the thing and then running has a 'budget' feel to it and, if Android is to strike out of the mid-range kinda market and encroach on Apple up at the top, this really needs addressing.

I wonder if this chart takes

I wonder if this chart takes into account that while it is technically the latest version of Android, Gingerbread was never really meant to run on phones. It's Android for tablets.

Also, I don't think it's a big deal because you can always get Cyanogenmod. Now that HTC has opened up their ROMS it doesn't even take any hacking.

It's mostly good

I think we are near the happy spot with fragmentation. From the base various vendors add changes, some of the better ideas get incorporated into the next release, or alternate solutions to the issue appear. Think of this as mutation and natural selection, which is why Android is evolving.

As for updates, it's always a range of users from "I want stable" to "I want the latest," just like Linux, from RHEL with security fixes only through active like "Debian unstable," and going to "the latest, users be damned" like Fedora (and some beyond that, like HotBits). I like features but need stability, some want whatever the equivalent would be to CentOS, and other want the latest regardless.

We have a spectrum, the mainline is evolving quickly, this is all good.

Yes

It's true we can use ROMs like Cyanogenmod, but obviously that invalidates warranties and wimps like me are too scared of bricking our phones. I suffered with an HTC phone for 18 months that was so underpowered it seemed disingenuous to even call it a smartphone. When I contacted HTC about it their solution was to buy a more powerful HTC phone!

Needless to say, I ditched Android as soon as that contract was up.

Kind of

Fragmentation *is* a problem, but think of the cereal, we all love all that delicious cereal.

Basically, it all boils down to the fact that if you know what version of Android you're running, you'll be the sort of person who wants to root your phone anyway. The average user doesn't care, unless it's an iPhone. in which case the new version gets 100% more press coverage because it's an Apple product. Which, although a shame, is true.

No

I bought what I bought and am happy with it. When I want something more up to date I will change. The whole mobile market is based on constantly selling you something you already have. Updating existing devices is just not part of the culture.

yes - its a problem

With 18 month / 24month contracts as norm - we need to be able to get the latest OS on our phones.
What is smart in smartphones not being able to take the latest builds? This sort of built in "obsolescence" may be good for business - but not good for clients....

It's a problem for some, not an issue for most

On a forum like this you'll probably get a lot of responses where Android fragmentation is a major issue. But in the real world, your typical consumer doesn't really care what version of OS is on their smart phone. Most don't even care about whether it's iOS or Android, or whatever. If their phone works properly they're happy with it. There's a massive selection of apps available too, more than enough to keep most people engaged and interested, no matter if they're running Froyo 2.2 or ICS 4. But this is a matter of looking at fragmentation just from the OS version aspect. A much more important issue is the interface layer most phone manufacturers and/or carriers add to allegedly 'enhance' their customers' phone usage. This is often just resource wasting branding that slows down operability and introduces instability. So Android fragmentation isn't an issue with the large majority of its users as far as version, but it is a significant drawback when it comes to the often pointless 'skins' the carriers ineptly add in on top of Android itself.

No. And why should it be?

I bet most of the people who complain about not being able to get updates can't name one benefit they would receive out of it. If you bought a cheap Android phone, suddenly getting ICS isn't going to suddenly change your life. The phone still works just as well as the day you bought it, you know, when you liked it enough to buy it.

It makes things more difficult for developers and manufacturers and carriers really should offer more updates but I think it's just a whole lot to do about nothing.

Not for the market.

If people would actually give a damn, we would see a huge difference in sales for the Nexus phones, or we would see vendors actively trying to get updates out on time and advertising that as well ("The new HTC xy - now with the quickest Android Updates!").

I don't really think this is an issue for anyone except for people like us (who, as many pointed out, can install different ROMs anyway). Security might be an issue, but so far not much has happened. The average consumer buys a phone and expects that to stay the same for the length of his contract.

And, to make the

And, to make the Graham-Morisson-is-afraid-of-breakfast-cereal-choices-argument: Choice is good! If someone asks me why I prefer Android to iOS, I usually talk about choice. I can pick the phone I like (or better, the phone my budget allows), use different music players (god, I hate iTunes), keyboards (Swype makes Apple's keyboard look prehistoric) and even different mods of the OS.

If you like a shiny and good out-of-the-box experience that you can't change, buy an iPhone. I get bored of stuff, love to try out new things and to tinker with my phone, so I would be sad and miserable with that experience, but I can understand people who prefer that.

only to the marketeers

If you care what version of android your running, you probably know how to install an up to date version, often running ahead of the official google OS releases to the hoi polloi, FFS over on XDA you can find instructions to get Gingerbread running on a G1 so at present the oldest android phone can run the latest, released, version of the OS.

without diverging into a

without diverging into a long and retrospective process of delimitation the latest devices wont necessarily support the latest version of a android in a few years unless someone is maintaining the "legacy" editions of android to ensure cross compatibility with the old android kernel system and the new user land developments - there will be a lot of perfectly good working hardware adding to the massive pile of electronic waste otherwise.

Not really....

Phones are normally sold with a two year contract after which they are little more than paper weights.

Regardless of whether the operating system is updated or not the hardware will fall behind during that time and the phone will feel dated. Manufacturers don't really have any interest in updating phones with the latest operating systems - they want to sell new phones. People may say they want the latest version of the operating system but if they hardware will not support it then their experience will suffer and so with their perception of Android.

People who know about Android buy phones with the latest versions on them and that stand a better than average chance of being updated, I've just bought a Nexus S for that very reason. It should be perfectly capable of running ICS but what about ICS+1?

People who want a smart phone but don't want to shell out for a iPhone will buy something which is probably mid way through it's lifecycle, running Android 2.1 with no hope of an upgrade - and they probably don't really care as long as it does what they want/need it to do.

My first Android phone was a HTC Hero and as already commented by another user it was left behind quite quickly - did that put me off Android? Not in the least.

Not for users, but certainly for developers (and thus for users)

As other commenters have pointed out, there's always going to be a divide between those who flock to the new and shiny and those who crave stability. At present, though, there is no single "stable" version of Android against which apps can be developed. Similarly, there's no single set of hardware for which to develop. What this means is that the same app can have wildly disparate behaviour and performance between two phones. Fixing this is hard: in many ways, it would require developers to code for the lowest common denominator. Doing so reduces the drive for platform improvements, which means that Android as a whole stagnates. Look at what happened to the web when MS won the browser wars with IE6.

Fortunately, though, there is an environment which has already solved this problem: the web. Web developers are starting to get the hang of progressive enhancement: make sure everyone gets basic service, and then bump up the shiny when you can. (There's also graceful degradation, which goes the other way.) It's a great way of working, because if it's done right, it costs very little more development time -- if any. Of course, it goes without saying that it's not a perfect fit for every situation -- particularly gaming.

Android needs to learn the lessons of the web, and make it easier for app developers to progressively enhance their products. That way, users can have the best experience their hardware/software combo can provide, regardless of whether or not they're running the latest and greatest.

Two elements here

There are two elements here...
1. Are security breaches being patched?
2. Are functionality upgrades being implemented?

The first is critical and the second is only important if you want the latest gizmos. For the enterprise world, they just want stability.

Was a problem, will be less so.

The article linked to has got it right - in itself being still on Eclair isn't really that much of a problem. Until you try and access some whizzy new app and find that it _needs_ FroYo or later. I had this problem with my SE X10, ended up going to a 3rd party ROM, at least until the manufacturer relented and "did" a cut-down G'bread ROM due to public pressure and the resulting PR disaster. Sure, there'll be folks who want to be on Jelly, Key Lime Pie, Lemon Meringue, etc (or whatever they're called) just for bragging rights - the rest of us (me included) just don't want to be excluded from the latest, greatest apps.

Google cocked it up by insisting manufacturers "add value", then doubled it by letting carriers do the same. The ability to deliver updates to a consumer direct from the OS builder is the ONLY thing that appeals to me about iPhone/iPad.

Thank the maker that ICS will remove a lot of the need for the manufacturers to tweak (MotoBlue, Sense, etc) and pretty much all of them have realised that shipping a phone and saying "that's it" won't cut it - consumers _expect_ the device to be maintained! Now if they (Google) could "persuade" the carriers about the need for timely updates too (baseball bat would work wonders) then we'd all be happy.

It's maybe hard of me, but I think folks with 2.2, 2.1 and older devices are going to have to accept that they've been left behind. So too are some 2.3 users (like us X10 owners). Newer devices WILL be better - c.f. the rush to get Honeycomb tablets to ICS.

A bigger threat - in my mind at least - is the Amazon Kindle Fire. It's Android-based, but running some Amazon-mutated fork of the "real thing". I honestly think that it could confuse folks when their "Android" phone looks/works nothing like their "Android-based" Kindle Fire.

HTC Desire from Orange

I got my HTC Desire when my contract with Orange renewed in April. While I am very happy with it, I am concerned about the amount of crapware Orange and HTC bundled with it, and the fact that the only thing that seems to update on my phone is Angry Birds.

My phone works fine, but the recent HTC security issues are concerning me big time.

Any chance of running an article in the mag on hacking your phone to put Cyanogen mod on it?

The Heavy over baring hand of censorship

Is rife throughout this site now.

Pointedly any comments made can simply be astro-turfed by Future Publishing.
Keep up the bland work lads.

Wait a second !

Am I the only who noted one thing: Apple "always" update support for their models?????
No they didn't. Update that cut down features on old iPhone once new model comes out, does not count as update (like "famous" iPhone 3 update). Also on iPhone's side it show how slow iOs progress is.

which one?

Tivoization, violations on the GPL, copyright, api, patents and not releasing source code. Lobsys and other patent trolls cashing in on undisclosed patent FUD. This is just for an OEM or developer.

HTC Android is different to Motorola Android is different to Samsung Applised Android is different to is different to LG Android is different to Cheap Chinese Android and the customer support is just as different, but on a scale they all suck like an electrolux.
My Motocrap Millstone is still waiting for an update to 2.2 that the rest of the world received and I am still waiting to see if they are plugging the one security "Vredefort dome sized" hole. My wife's HTC Tatoo that is still under warranty will never receive an update and I can only muse to say it is because of the deal with Micro$oft as it is possible to run 2.0.
The security hole, it is mine to exploit, because of Google and Motorola's attitude I will not submit the bug again.

Luckily the marketing people have not yet caught on to the fact that android is a hacked-up version of Linux as the legal problems will taint OSS image even further (many a manager still remembers the SCO problems). With the current custodianship and commercialisation Android is bad for business. Google has proven 4 important points with android that few can refute.
1. The linux kernel and a couple of other programmes can run a smart phone, but Sharp already knew that.
2. Gnu/Linux can be the next popular operating system if it has a unified API and some decent marketing.
3. Malware can be written for linux and it will be left unpatched.
4. Tivoization, money (greed), shoddy customer support and nobody makes a noise, instead Google and the OEMs get defended. LFX has done this twice with 2 readers that wrote in.

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Thank you for the good writeup.

Greetings! I’ve been following your site for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the great work!

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