Enjoy the Calm While It Lasts, Android Fans

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.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2010, at 6:26 PM, RobertC314 wrote:

    "Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) swears by a single-experience model, and this is the closest I've seen Android get to that ideal."

    I would say that Google (and indeed, many people) disagree that the single-experience model is an "ideal". One of the great things about having a solid "platform" (e.g. Android) is that many people can customize the user experience to what is best for them and their device. Obviously the quality of that work is always suspect, but that goes both ways - a talented team can create tremendous value just as easily as a crappy one can destroy it. However, I don't subscribe to the Apple (Steve Jobs?) belief that all developers are crap except theirs.

    The reason the "single experience" model is not particularly relevant for a phone is that the ability to pick up a strange phone and immediately be an expert is not hugely valuable. Users typically have a phone for 1-2 years, so the 1-2 week learning curve is not a big deal if you gain significant functionality, either additional features or added efficiency. Not to mention that for a lot of people part of the fun of a new gadget is seeing what is... well... new about it.

    As for other people not understanding how your fancy new phone works... who cares if your grandmother or roommate can't make a phone call on it; it's your phone.

    If you disagree you're not wrong (and neither am I); you are just in the (admittedly sizable) minority who have a wonderful product created just for you: the iPhone.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2010, at 7:05 PM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    This whole Android "user choice" mantra is highly disingenuous. It is the developer that is the user that gets the choice, and he is indeed given more freedom to destroy the end user's environment than an iOS developer would have.

    But in practice the typical non technical end user has no more choice on Android than he/she would have on iOS. In fact they have less choice, as there is less software available.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2010, at 7:38 PM, gristan wrote:

    As Title Suggested, No One IS SURE Android's Instant SUCCESS " Sustainable "!!!!!!

    Next Year at THIS TIME, Are They Still EXISTING???????????????

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