Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Android struggles with fragmentation

The Android smartphone ecosystem has always been a fragmented mess, with different operating system versions being the biggest problem. According to numbers released by research firm OpenSignal on Wednesday, the problem is worse than ever in 2015 (Read here). OpenSignal collected data from 682,000 Android devices globally using an app that users were requested to install, and the market is more complex than ever before. The blessing may be turning into a curse.

Not only are there more devices available in the market, more and more manufacturers are making those devices. Compared to 2012, there are 1,000 more manufacturers selling Android devices. Phones and tablets running Android come with a variety of screen sizes and resolutions, and use different hardware combinations which result in different levels of performance.

Samsung still remains the market leader in terms of its share of the pie, but their share of the global Android device has seen a decline—from 43% in 2014 to 37.8% in 2015. It is interesting to note that while there is an incredible fuss about Xiaomi, it’s share is no more than ZTE’s, a phonemaker not many people are aware of. Xiaomi is the pink box just to the right of the sky blue ZTE box.

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The operating system still remains very fragmented and messy. There are many different versions of Android being actively used. But what really stands out is the fact that only 2.6% of the phones run the Android Lollipop 5.1 version and only 15.5% run the Android Lollipop 5.0 version—that means less than 20% of the devices are running the two latest iterations of the operating system. This is a massive contrast to Apple’s iOS ecosystem. Of all the iPhones, iPads and iPods being used globally right now, 85% run the latest iOS 8 version, while only 13% are using the older iOS 7.

While it may not mean much to consumers who aren’t craving for the latest piece of software, the sort of fragmentation Android is constantly struggling with makes the job harder for app developers as well as hardware makers. The people making apps have to optimize them for all sort of screen sizes, resolutions, processors, RAM, and Android versions, and the results aren’t always successful.

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According to the trends being seen, phone and tablet screens are bigger, CPUs have more cores and they now pack in more RAM than ever before. Hardware makers, meanwhile, have to ensure their product runs well with other components in the phone.

And if any of the software or hardware elements are not perfect, the user experience suffers.

But what is the reason for such fragmentation? Apart from the variety of hardware and software, a share of the blame lies at the doorstep of smartphone makers. And Google is perhaps giving them a long rope, but things are going downhill very quickly. Even today, a lot of Android phones launched late last year or earlier this year have not been updated to run the latest Android Lollipop 5.1 version. Smartphone makers spend a lot of their energy on creating software and interface customizations that make their phones unique—Samsung’s TouchWiz UI and HTC’s Sense are two examples. That takes away the focus from rolling out the latest Android update quickly. Users are not able to get the benefit of the new features, improved performance and better security that the new OS usually would offer.

For a consumer, the sheer variety and the ability to buy a device that is perfectly suited to one’s usage pattern still remains the greatest strength of the Android ecosystem. The fact that more manufacturers are making Android devices lends more weight to the argument. But if this ends up hurting the entire experience of owning and using an Android phone, it’ll perhaps be a curse that Google may not be able to wish away.

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