Once again, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) has updated its monthly report on Android fragmentation. The platform is arguably less fragmented than ever -- but that won't last.
The Platform Versions report on Android's site for developers now shows that 77% of all Android devices that accessed the Android Market in the past two weeks ran Android version 2.1 or 2.2. Dinosaur versions 1.5 and 1.6 are fading out as new handsets almost always come with newer software than that, and some older models are still receiving modern updates.
A relatively unified (OK, duofied -- between Eclair (versions 2.0 and 2.1) and Froyo (version 2.2) -- but I don't think that's a real word) platform is good for app developers who don't need to program workarounds for special cases, is good for users who can switch handsets and still be familiar with how the new one should work, and is good from Google's standpoint as a platform backer because it makes Android generally look all grown-up. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) swears by a single-experience model, and this is the closest I've seen Android get to that ideal. The biggest smudge on this pretty picture is the continued insistence of device makers Samsung, Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) , HTC, and others to differentiate their particular models by overlaying their own user interfaces on the basic Android foundation.
And sometime in the next week or so, version 2.3 (or perhaps 3.0) codenamed Gingerbread will show up and restart the whole fragmentation debate again. The giant gingerbread man has already joined the dessert pantheon at the Googleplex.
The new version will supposedly be optimized for the larger screens of tablet computers (though a future tablet-specific Android version is supposedly being developed as well) and offer a better user interface; those were two of the major design directives going into the development cycle. Gingerbread will follow the example set by every other Android version so far with a slow uptake at first but then swift acceleration as mass-market products and over-the-air updates start rolling out.
When Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) introduced the original Droid on Nov. 6, 2009, it came with Android 2.0/Eclair that was published only two weeks prior. It's not entirely too late for handset designers and network operators to get some Gingerbread action going in time for the holidays, possibly accelerating the uptake graph for the next version -- or in other words, to shatter the fragmentation mosaic even faster than last time.
But you know what I say: iOS is all about controlling your experience, and Android is all about user choice. I think Google worries less about the fragmentation issue than market pundits do.