Is Fragmentation Breaking the Android Dev’s Will?

Developers are losing interest in creating apps for Android because of the continued fragmentation of the operating system, according to a survey conducted jointly by Appcelerator and IDC between January and February.

Its results show that interest in Android phone app development fell by nearly five percentage points over the past quarter to about 79 percent. Interest in Android tablets fell just over 2 percent to about 66 percent.

Meanwhile, iOS remains the leading platform for devs, with 89 percent of respondents to the survey saying they were very interested in developing for the iPhone and 88 percent wanting to create apps for the iPad.

The survey covered devs using Appcelerator’s Titanium mobile app development platform in shops of five or more people. It had about 2,200 respondents.

“Fragmentation is a major issue for Android, and so is commerce friction,” said Simon Khalaf, president and CEO of Flurry Analytics. “Developers are shying away from [the OS] because of these two [factors].”

The Many-Headed Android Beast

Google’s own figures show that many different versions of Android are current being used. Google statistics regarding the number of active devices accessing Google Play over two weeks ending March 5 found that 62 percent ran Gingerbread, or Android 2.3. Another roughly 25 percent ran Froyo, or Android 2.2. Eclair, or Android 2.1, was used by 6.6 percent of the devices.

Other devices ran Android 1.5 or Cupcake; Android 1.6, or Donut; Honeycomb, which constitutes the Android 3 series; and Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the OS.

What About Ice Cream Sandwich?

Google is well aware critics use of the term fragmentation to describe its OS. In January, it released the Android Design style guide for Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) in an attempt to codify design principles for the OS.

However, the relatively slow take-up of ICS and the existing huge installed base of devices running older versions of Android make fragmentation a continuing thorn in the Internet giant’s side.

A study conducted recently by online ad network and data analytics firm Chitika on tens of millions of impressions across its network found that only 1.12 percent of Android devices were running ICS; most of the rest ran Gingerbread.

ICS Remains a Sleeper

“It’s not just that Ice Cream Sandwich is new; it’s also the fact that very few of the tablets currently available actually support [it],” Mike King, Appcelerator’s principal mobile strategist, told LinuxInsider. “There are many devices still on sale at Best Buy and other retail outlets that only run [Android] 2.2.”

Android 2.2 is also known as “Froyo.”

Further, Android Design won’t solve the fragmentation problem “because there are many devices that cannot run ICS,” King said.

Another factor contributing to Android’s fragmentation is that device vendors can choose which feature sets to expose because of differences in screen size, processor power and other capabilities, King pointed out. “Additionally, things like Google Wallet and secure access may or may not be available on all devices.”

ICS is “only one step in the right direction,” King suggested. Google needs to mitigate the hardware fragmentation and provide more consistency for developers in terms of marketplace and monetization as well if it wants to lure back devs, he said.

Google did not respond to our request for comment for this story.

Cui Bono?

Although iOS remains the leading target for devs and HTML 5 is gaining strength, devs fleeing Android are not necessarily gravitating toward either of these two, Appcelerator’s King stated.

“We didn’t see additional growth in iOS interest, and it’s not towards HTML 5, so perhaps [the movement is] just away from Android,” he speculated. Appcelerator believes that a move away from Android could benefit Windows Phone 7 and floundering BlackBerry maker Research In Motion.

However, Flurry Analytics’ Khalaf believes iOS and Amazon, with its Kindle Fire, will benefit from the developers fleeing Android.

“Amazon has solved fragmentation and doing commerce for Android and is attracting developers, and Apple doesn’t suffer from that [fragmentation] issue,” Khalaf said.

1 Comment

  • It’s baffling how people can continue to claim that Apple does not suffer from fragmentation… and that’s this is somehow a uniquely Android issue. The original iPhone and the iPhone 3g cannot be upgraded to Apple’s iOS5. This means you have segments in that market using iOS4 and iOS5. The next major update is said to be leaving the iPhone 3gs behind as well… meaning 3 different OS fragments. Not every owner upgrades every year. This is a real situation.

    And don’t forget Windows phones. There’s plenty of WinMo 6.1 and 6.5 units out there that are totally incompatible with the WP7 OS.

    This article SHOULD have discussed the problem with Google’s late payouts to developers, the percentages the developers are actually receiving compared to other platforms and other issues. Fragmentation is not the real issue here.

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