There are some words in the English language better kept under lock and key -- the same goes for language in the tech world. The idea of fragmentation can rub consumers, developers, and investors the wrong way. But with Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) recent release of its own fragmentation data, the company's proved that fragmentation doesn't have to be a dirty word.
An evolution of definition
Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG ) Android has a bit of a reputation as an amazingly fragmented system – most likely because there are five different versions of Android currently running. But it's not exactly Google's fault. The company makes a great OS that gets updated frequently -- just like Apple's iOS -- but the problem is that smartphones makers decide which version of Android to run on their phones and whether the phone can be upgraded to a newer version down the road.
This has led to Android OSes like Gingerbread -- a version that's more than two years old -- still taking up 36% of Google's mobile operating system versions.
If we take a look at Apple's pie chart, we see something very different. There are three versions of its operating system currently running -- instead of Android's five -- and just one of them accounts for 93% of all iOS versions. You'd have to add up at least four Android operating systems to achieve that percentage.
Apple's fragmentation, if we can even call it that, is more of an evolutionary change between OSes, with just a small percentage of users choosing not to upgrade or not being able to upgrade because the devices are too old.
Google's software fragmentation contrasts sharply with Apple's because the iPhone maker owns both the hardware and the software. This allows Apple to create software that can be updated across a large spectrum of devices, rather than having to limit new software to its latest devices.
What this actually means
When Apple introduced iOS 7 at WWDC 2013 a few weeks ago, Craig Federighi, the company's senior vice president of software engineering said, "Installing iOS 7 on your phone is like getting an entirely new phone, but one that you already know how to use." Some could take this as just marketing speak, but I think that's the wrong approach. Apple creates ongoing value for its mobile products because the company continues to update devices years after they're purchased. Sure, some Android users can update their devices, but according to Android's own chart, not enough of them are. It'll be worth taking another look at Apple's chart a few months after iOS 7 launches to see if, or how, the chart changes.
It's hard to quantify the importance of a non-fragmented mobile OS. Some Android users running an older system may not know about new versions, or simply may not care. But Apple's advantage is that its users are far more engaged with the OS than are Android users, according to an Experian study released last month. This bodes well for Apple's ecosystem -- and for future mobile purchases down the road.
With Apple's recent announcement of iOS 7, the company is showing that it can still innovate with the best of them. And with a new iPhone likely on the horizon, the Cupertino company could make yet another giant step forward. Apple has a history of cranking out revolutionary products... and then creatively destroying them with something better. Read about the future of Apple in the free report, "Apple Will Destroy Its Greatest Product." Can Apple really disrupt its own iPhones and iPads? Find out by clicking here.