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:GOOGL) 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.
Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.