How Open And Fragmented Is Android?

by Gaurav Kheterpal on April 7, 2011

The Android openness and fragmentation debate refuses to go away. Shortly after Google was publicly blasted by the open source community for limiting access to Honeycomb source code, the world’s fastest growing mobile operating system is now dealing with another potentially serious problem – Android’s “fragmentation” among many different devices, a concern that Apple’s  Steve Jobs raised last year.

Needless to say, the Android developer community isn’t amused. Despite Android being a cash cow for mobile developers, they strongly believe Android is fast emerging as an unsustainable mess. There’s fragmentation at device and store level and to make matters worse, Google’s anti-open stand on Honeycomb isn’t helping the developer cause.

Though Andy Rubin, Google VP of Engineering, has done his best to clear the air, I’m not sure if Android developers and OEM partners are in a mood to listen to sweet talk. Perhaps, it’s high time for Rubin and Google to set the record straight on Android’s openness and fragmentation.

Rubin says his team is committed to bring all the new Honeycomb features to phones. Since Honeycomb is running behind the planned schedule, it should not be interpreted as a change in strategy and all questions related to Android’s openness are uncalled for. Fair enough, but why did Rubin and his team wait so long to come up with such a lame explanation? While a number of experts believe limiting the Honeycomb code is not going to hurt the Android market, I beg to differ.

Contrary to popular perception, I strongly believe Google’s fragmentation isn’t just limited to cosmetic UI areas. The launch of Amazon App Store is a good indication that Google’s trouble with store fragmentation has merely begun and it’s only going to get worse from here on.

Rubin says Android partner limitations are justified as they help ensure compatibility. He says these restrictions have been in place since Android began so the sudden fuss is unwarranted. While Google initially didn’t bother to enforce partner licensing restrictions, it’s now clamping down heavily on such defaulters, especially as fragmentation of the Android updates becomes more of an issue. Unfortunately, withholding the latest code isn’t the best solution to this problem.

survey of Android developers by Wired indicates growing discontent amongst the developer community. As WSJ puts it, Developers Like, But Not Love, Android. More than 50 percent of developers view fragmentation as a serious issue and a substantial proportion is concerned over Google’s decision over not to open source Honeycomb. The survey indicates most developers seem to prefer a unified, single store experience like Apple App Store. Despite these concerns, Android continues to be all the rage amongst mobile developers. But for how long?

An IDC report published last month indicates Android is poised to become the number one mobile operating system later this year. Numero uno or not, Rubin and company need to settle the openness and fragmentation debate sooner than later or else Android would soon be a disaster in the waiting.

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Written by: Gaurav Kheterpal. Follow TheTelecomBlog.comby: RSS,TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

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