Why Android fragmentation matters

18 Jul 2013

Android is and in my opinion will remain the dominant mobile OS for some time to come. As of the first quarter of 2013 roughly three out of every four smartphones shipped was an Android device. Large and innovative markets such as Japan, South Korea and China are all overwhelmingly Android on the high end. As are emerging markets like India and Indonesia, not to mention most Western European markets, especially where device subsidies are low.

While web-based browsers offer some interesting possibilities in the future, aside from iOS little else really presents a challenge to Android as Microsoft and Blackberry continue to try and reinvent their mobile operating systems. Android has a lot going for it, especially as the Samsung Galaxy series has significantly raised the bar in terms of performance and quality, and continued progress with developing a ubiquitous ecosystem spanning from appliances to automotive to wearable devices also offers significant prospects for the future.

But Android remains very fragmented in comparison to iOS, and that is a problem. Recent figures released by Google in June give the breakdown of visitors to the Google Play app store, and there is no clear leader in terms of Android OS version. By contrast, comparable figures released by Apple show that over 90% of its users are using iOS6.

Despite the massive growth of Android, this remains a huge issue for software developers as considerably more resources are required to develop for Android and there is often a considerable amount of confusion as to the specifications which should be targeted for Android development not to mention the thousands of devices compared to the handful offered by Apple.

This is a paradox in the sense that it was the openness of Android that led to multivendor adoption but at the same time makes it less attractive to developers. This is very apparent as some of the largest mobile application companies in the world have completely ignored Android (Supercell of Finland is a great example) and many others have a very clear iOS first strategy, because the lack of fragmentation in iOS means that those apps monetize better and have a better ROI.

Going forward Android will likely always be more fragmented (although html5 offers a lot of potential in this area) due to the large number of vendors involved compared to iOS. More co-operation across the ecosystem in terms of updating smart devices would go a long way towards fixing this problem.

Marc Einstein is a telecom analyst/consultant. He is based in Tokyo.

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