Will Android Ever Beat the "Fragmentation" Rap?

Critics of Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android platform for tablets, smartphones, and set-top boxes like to hold up fragmentation as a key weakness. Android comes in hundreds of flavors, with each handset maker adding its own personal touches to the software and then handing it over to the mobile network for further tweaking. The result is innumerable Android variants tailored to very specific (and sometimes contradictory) demands. And then, when Google updates the core software, it takes forever before end users see any features or performance improvements.

The fragmentation debate is getting plenty of fuel right now. On one hand, the latest and greatest Android version, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, is finally arriving on many of the best-selling devices. But then, Google is expected to introduce the next version at next week's Google I/O conference. Diversity is going up and down all at once..

What's an Android user -- not to mention Google investors -- to do?

Some skepticism is clearly warranted. Ice Cream Sandwich was introduced in October 2011, and had reached only 7% of Android handsets as of June 1 -- seven months later. The rate of adoption is hardly impressive:

Source: Google's Android developer site.

See that little sliver at the bottom, marked Android 4.0.3? That's Ice Cream Sandwich. Almost everyone is stuck on older, inferior software. By contrast, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) controls the hardware and software for all its iOS devices and isn't keen on letting network carriers change much about their iPhones. So when Apple comes up with a new software version, it moves out quickly: 60% of all iOS users upgraded to version 5.1 less than two weeks after its unveiling in March, and half of the holdouts are just stuck with hardware too old to support the improved software.

But when it rains, it pours. In the past few days, Samsung released Ice Cream Sandwich updates for its popular Galaxy S2 series. Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) saw upgrades to the Motorola-made line of Droid RAZR phones, which is the network's biggest seller ahead of the iPhone, as well as the HTC Droid Rezound. So expect that little Ice Cream wedge to expand drastically when Google updates that chart at the end of June.

So app developers have to account for a myriad of hardware and software combinations you'd never see in the Apple world, but judging from sales figures, consumers seem to appreciate the wide variety of choices more than they're perplexed by the variety. The blessings outweigh the curses.

That said, no gadget in the mobile revolution outsells the iPhone in a head-to-head comparison. Our chief tech analyst here at the Fool believes that Apple can enjoy that advantage for years to come, and has penned an in-depth report to explain his reasoning. To see whether you agree with his logic, get your copy of that premium report right now.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Fool owns shares of Google and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2012, at 8:00 PM, dmvcal wrote:

    What "rap". Assembling off-the-shelf components into a shippable commodity is simpler than writing compelling software. Just ask the million plus Chinese assemblers. Oh, forgot, software drives hardware. Just look at Microsoft's recent Zune tablet event.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2012, at 9:50 AM, dlchase24 wrote:

    This argument doesn't take place outside of tech circles. If you pull up a tech blog, you can find numerous articles claiming fragmentation is a problem and even some articles saying Google should wrestle the whole platform away and control it all.

    It's a ridiculous argument in my opinion that has little affect on the end user. Most people buying Android phones are not worried about or focusing on the version of Android it runs. There may be performance improvements, but since I've upgraded my phone, I've barely noticed them, if they exist at all.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2012, at 1:53 PM, CluckChicken wrote:

    "It's a ridiculous argument in my opinion that has little affect on the end user."

    It may not now but if some app uses some code that is not in an older version of Android that app will not work for the older versions. This was a known issue with Google's choice not to force the set makers into a set of standards.

    Of course on the other side can have issues as well. Forcing a software upgrade can ruin the user experience if the new OS requires more power for optimal use then phones 6 months or older have.

    It is difficult to find that balance with how fast the hardware changes are coming in this market.

Add your comment.

DocumentId: 1922219, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 7/24/2014 5:35:54 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement