Sunday, August 4, 2013

iOS/Android : The State of Android Fragmention

Android fragmentation was supposed to start becoming less of an issue when Google started offering "pure" Android devices. However, it seems as though Android fragmentation is actually becoming worse. A study done by Open Signal showed just how badly the Android platform was fragmented. Most users aren't using the latest version of the operating system, in fact very few are. There are hundreds of screen sizes, and a flood of devices on the market. It's a pain for both developers and users. Developers have a harder time creating apps that work properly on such a wide range of devices, screen sizes, and operating systems, and users see lower quality apps, few updates, and become obsolete
quickly. Though users may not notice it, they're getting cheated out of a better user experience.

The image at the top of this post shows the current phones in use on theAndroid platform. It's incredibly colorful, and looks pretty cool, but it's actually a bad thing. Users have many hardware choices on the Android platform, but many are cheap, low powered phones. Even some of the most popular ones are older devices. Developers have to make sure their apps will work on many of these devices, so the variety of choices is a doubled edged sword. Developers are hurt, which means software options are lacking for users.
Another problem developers face is the wide variety of screen sizes used by Android devices. This makes developing a user interface that is easy to use and good looking more difficult. Users may have a wide variety of options in screen sizes and aspect ratio, but they generally agree that a widescreen format is optimal for phones, and similar screen sizes. Users don't benefit much from the wide variety of screen sizes, but they're forcing developers to work much harder to develop lesser apps. Once again, the wide variety of hardware options hurts software choices, and makes development work much more difficult.

When it comes to the versions of the OS being used on Android, the results are again disheartening. Users infrequently receive updates, forcing them to buy a new phone if they want security and usability updates. Users are hurt, and may not even realize how bad their situation is. Even the cofounder of Android said that users are okay with this issue, because they're blissfully unaware of the problem. Developers hate it too, because they have to limit the features their apps can use to make them reach a wide variety of users. If they want to make use of the features of a new operating system, they risk isolating a large number of users. This also makes testing far more difficult. Most Android users are using a version of the operating system that are two versions old, and only 5.6% of users are using the latest version of the operating system. Meanwhile, 95% of iOS users are on the latest version of the operating system. These Android users are missing out on important feature updates and security updates, and they're unaware of the issue unless they stay up to date with tech news. Android users are offered the only option of buying a brand new phone, or be left behind.

Fragmentation hurts everyone who has to deal with the Android operating system, users and developers alike. The issue is becoming worse, and Android users are only able to ignore the issue because they're unaware of it. If they knew how fragmentation makes high quality apps more rare, gives users fewer software choices, and leaves them vulnerable to attack from hackers, they'd be more upset. Android users may be unaware of how fragmentation hurts them, but developers certainly know. The only group that benefits from it are the phone manufacturers who force users to buy new versions of their phones, and know that the difference between the versions of Android software will cause some users to feel obligated to stick with their platform. Users and developers suffer so manufacturers can make more money. That's the state of Android.
Sources: The Verge and Open Signal

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