Report: Android fragmentation tripled over last year


The number of distinct devices running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) open-source Android mobile operating system has tripled over the past 12 months, according to a new report issued by crowdsourced carrier coverage mapping firm OpenSignal.

Close to 12,000 distinct Android devices have downloaded OpenSignal's Android app in the past several months, increasing from roughly 4,000 a year ago at this time, the firm notes. Eight different Android OS versions are currently in use: Android 2.3.x, a.k.a. Gingerbread, leads at 34.1 percent, closely followed by 4.1.x Jelly Bean at 32.3 percent and 4.0.x Ice Cream Sandwich at 23.3 percent. By comparison, 95 percent of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) devices run the current iOS 6.

OpenSignal's report includes a visual representation of Android fragmentation. Click here for more.

Samsung Electronics controls 47.5 percent of the Android device market, OpenSignal notes. Sony Ericsson is a distant second at 6.5 percent market share, trailed by Motorola Mobility at 4.2 percent and HTC at 3.9 percent. "Key to the success of any app is getting the UI right, and Android presents two particular challenges to developers in this regard," OpenSignal said. "Firstly, brands have a tendency to produce their own variants on the system UI (Samsung's TouchWiz and the HTC Sense being two such examples), which can change the look of various default elements. Secondly, no other smartphone platform boasts such a proliferation of different screen sizes."

Despite the challenges Android fragmentation poses for the developer community, OpenSignal contends that the proliferation of devices creates opportunities as well. "The availability of cheap Android phones (rarely running the most recent version) means that they have a much greater global reach than iOS, so app developers have a wider audience to build for," OpenSignal said. "It may be tricky to do, but the potential reward definitely makes it worthwhile. For consumers, extreme fragmentation means that they can get exactly the phone they want--big or small, cheap or expensive, with any number of different feature combinations."

High-profile critics of Android fragmentation include Apple CEO Tim Cook, who blasted the platform during his company's annual Worldwide Developer Conference last month. "This isn't just bad for users… this version fragmentation is terrible for developers," Cook said. A recent Juniper Networks report also blames Android fragmentation for the operating system's security vulnerabilities, noting that the vast majority of devices run older versions of Android, preventing them from receiving new security measures delivered by Google and leaving users exposed to threats.

At Google's own I/O conference in May, Android engineering staffers said they are working diligently to ensure that operating system updates are rolled out in a more efficient manner, reducing fragmentation concerns. "[Fragmentation] is something we think about a lot," said Dave Burke, engineering director for the Android platform. "And we're working internally to streamline the development process and make the software more layered."

For more:
- read this OpenSignal report

Related articles:
Android co-founder Miner calls fragmentation fears 'overblown'
Google vows to streamline Android development, combat fragmentation
Apple's Cook blasts Android fragmentation
VMware targets Android fragmentation with Horizon Mobile
Apple exec Schiller slams Android user experience, fragmentation
Juniper Networks: Mobile malware threats explode 614 percent year-over-year