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Android : It’s About Differentiation, Not Fragmentation

During Google's keynote presentation last week at CES, Eric Schmidt addressed the elephant in the room that's been lingering around for the past few years - Android fragmentation.

How much of an issue is fragmentation though? Surely the joy of Android is the level of differentiation and choice that exists for consumers.

During his keynote, Eric Schmidt pointed out that having a wide range of devices offered on the platform actively encourages innovation. This, however, has led to the lines between Android phones and tablets becoming blurred.

With some phones, the screens can be up to 5.3 inches, while tablet screens start from 7 inches. This innovation in the OS gives manufacturers more control over their devices, for example should an operator require a change in the screen resolution this is supported by the Android platform.

To get an understanding of the issue, and what Eric mentioned, I spoke to Scott Bown, lead Android developer at Mubaloo. "While all of the differentiation between Android devices is great for the consumer, it does cause problems with fragmentation between software versions, keyboard layouts, hardware options and specifications and any customized skins placed on top of Android", said Scott.

"For developers, this can cause challenges in extending the development process. This can sometimes lead to a trade off when it comes between the flexibility of hardware and updated versions of Android. As manufacturers are focused on creating new and improved phones with features that differentiate them from the competition, when new versions of Android come out they have to spend time ensuring their customizations will work on new versions."

Clearly, differentiation is a good thing, and it has certainly been part of the reason Android has been able to gain such an impressive market share over the likes of BlackBerry and even Apple - though it hasn't come without its challenges. Scott continues, "As a developer, fragmentation is more of a challenge that needs to be overcome than an issue. Fragmentation is also nothing new to development. This is something that Windows software developers, web developers and gaming developers have had to deal with for a number of years. It is not unique to Android. Google is also aware of the challenges and have provided developers an abundance of information and tools through their Ice Cream Sandwich APK resource frameworks to enable developers to maximize the number of devices apps will work on."

Fragmentation shouldn't then put developers or consumers off Android. As the largest smartphone platform in the world now, it offers developers the maximum amount of opportunities to reach a bigger and more diverse audience. For the end users, it means that they can enjoy the same apps without all having identical looking phones.