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Can Google Fix Android's Fragmentation Problem?

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One of the most common knocks on Google 's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Android platform is its "fragmented" nature.

The Android OS has to support hundreds of hardware models from dozens of manufacturers, most of whom like to put their personal stamp on their handsets and tablets by introducing their own unique wrinkles. And then, the network operators join the customer experience party: The same Samsung phone will look and feel very different depending on where you bought it. And not for technical reasons, either: The same hardware will work just fine with the AT&T and T-Mobile US networks, but each carrier wants to make sure you know who you're sending that monthly check to.

Compare and contrast this to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , where the iPhone maker largely sets its rules in stone, and even the major carriers must comply if they want to sell Cupertino's refined hardware. Instead of hundreds of models and plenty of handset makers, Apple only supports its own in-house designs, and just a couple of models, at that. The result is a highly predictable experience that contrasts sharply with the variegated Android landscape.

Well, Google has started doing something about this. The company hasn't presented a brand new Android version in 2013, as it often does in the spring and fall of every year. Instead, some of the details that set the latest version apart from older variants have been broken out and can be installed on older handsets. You don't have to wait for Ma Bell or T-Mob to send out wholesale Android upgrades to your aging handset, if all you wanted was that nifty Jelly Bean keyboard, or the Google Now instant search tool.

This move won't erase the handset builder's and carrier's custom apps from your screen, but it does make the Android platform more consistent across major versions. It's certainly a step in the right direction if you care about consistency on a variety of hardware.

But why stop there? The rumor mill suggests that this fall's major Android release will require less memory and system resources than the last few generations. According to VR Zone, this October will see Android 5.0, aka Key Lime Pie, stepping up with low-key hardware requirements that would fit handsets made in 2010. Google is optimizing the living daylights out of its software, giving its many partners the option to update some positively ancient hardware to the latest and greatest software.

If the Key Lime Pie requirements turn out to be as low as VRE Zone suggests,you can expect users with older handsets to demand support for a modern software platform. It's getting harder and harder to blame Google for unpredictable Android upgrades, shifting the potential blame squarely on the shoulders of its hardware and service partners.

As one of the most dominant and innovative Internet companies ever, Google has made a habit of driving strong returns for its shareholders. However, like many other web companies, it's also struggling to adapt to an increasingly mobile world. Despite gaining an enviable lead with its Android operating system, the market isn't sold. That's why it's more important than ever to understand each piece of Google's sprawling empire. In The Motley Fool's new premium research report on Google, we break down the risks and potential rewards for Google investors. Simply click here now to unlock your copy of this invaluable resource.

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (2)

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  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 9:44 PM, Fiat500S wrote:

    Android isn't that fragmented. Carriers have their special networks, but how many carriers are there ? After that, each handset really is using virtually the same parts across the board ? Qualcomm Snapdragon single, dual & quad core cpu, the ram memory is pretty much a standard too. Wifi & bluetooth stacks don't change drastically either. So what else is there, sd memory inside and video display chipset, even the touchscreen ? It's like a computer that gets initialized. Apple's iPhone has changed enough that certain iOS features don't work from iPhone model to model. With Siri, anything pre-4s can't use that. Apple has fragmentation issues creeping in. In some cases, multi-tasking ? Why would an older single core cpu smartphone have that ? You'd need a hyperthreaded Intel cpu to utilize some pseudo-multi-tasking feature ? And that isn't an ARM cpu. Some technology won't be supported and left behind when the newest HTC One is $ 99 in an upgrade.

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 10:39 PM, NotPatB wrote:

    This is a fake story. Google should open up GMS to more hardware makers, instead of giving the monopoly to the few big brands. GMS for ALL!

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 10:55 PM, kkrimmer wrote:

    Why iOS is safer than Android

    The relative vulnerability of Android vs. iOS comes down to the level of control the vendors have over products and the marketplace for development and distribution of apps. -

    Bogus ad network marks new twist on Android malware

    The BadNews ad framework fooled Google Play for weeks, sending fake update notifications for apps such as Skype and dozens of other apps. -

    Android malware more than doubled worldwide in 2012

    The annual report, published by mobile security company NQ Mobile, also estimated that nearly 33 million devices were infected in 2012, up from just under 11 million the year before — an increase of more than 200 percent. -

    Android attacks now outpace all other mobile platforms, says McAfee -

    Study: 99% of Android devices vulnerable to attack

    Bad news for Android users! A study shows that 99 percent of Android devices are vulnerable to a security attack which allows hackers to access their Twitter, Facebook, or Google accounts. --

    Study: Android malware up 400 percent

    Android malware up 400 percent and Wi-Fi networks increasingly vulnerable to attack. --

  • Report this Comment On June 15, 2013, at 12:46 AM, bbrriilliiaanntt wrote:

    Great, but no one but Google cares, the handset mfg. Like Samsung, Lg, HTC, Etc. Don't want consumers to upgrade….period….

    The handset mfg. Want consumers to buy the new phone that has the newer OS…

    This is why Google is fighting a losing battle against Apple…

    Apple wants everyone to be on the latest version to build happy consumers, that will upgrade to Apple every time….

    This is a very simple observation, and the reason Apple will win in the long run…


  • Report this Comment On June 15, 2013, at 12:51 PM, SgtStedanko wrote:

    I wonder how much this article cost Apple...

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 7:53 AM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    Wow, @SgtStedanko. That would be $0.00. Being an Android user myself, I'm not particularly concerned about fragmentation because I see it as a sign of consumer choice. But some people do care, and there's some value in providing the latest and greatest tools to older handsets, longtime customers. Reward loyalty, kind of thing.

    Also, the article comes to the conclusion that Google is reducing confusion and fragmentation. How is this a pro-Apple story?


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