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Android Fragmentation Debate Could be Red Herring

iStock 000017592841XSmallAs new Android flavors develop, particularly with the new version developed by Amazon for the Amazon Fire, the debate rages over whether fragmentation is actually a problem for developers or a red herring introduced as open source FUD.

Just this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman tried to tamp down any concerns about fragmentation saying that it was about freedom for developers and handset manufacturers to compete on what he calls differentiation.

That may be semantics (applied with the skill of a politician), but the question is, does it actually hurt developers. Todd Anglin, Chief Technology Evangelist at Telerik, an applications and content management company (whom we've interviewed several times for this blog) thinks the concerns could be overblown, but he does worry about increasing version fragmentation

"There is no question that Android forks and fragmentation creates challenges for developers. So far, I have not observed a huge amount of pain caused by developers forking Android (though that may change if Amazon's Kindle Fire succeeds), but there has been a fair amount of pain and debate over Androids versioning fragmentation," Anglin said.

What he means by that is that is that Google is doing a poor job of getting people to move to the most recent versions of Android. In fact, a recent PCWorld report suggests that a vast majority of Android phone users are not yet on the latest versions of the OS.

Anglin sees this is a possibly bigger problem for developers because it will force them to develop to the lowest common denominator as happened with Internet Explorer. "As newer Android devices unlock better performance and more powerful features, developers facing a market mostly stuck on Android 2.x will have to develop to the lowest common denominator," he said.

But for all of that, Anglin still sees a lot of advantages for developers on the Android platform. "Depending on the type of development being done, an "open" platform like Android usually affords more flexibility and control than a "closed" platform like iOS," he said.

He adds, "If your goal is to completely customize the device UI, connect a proprietary attachment, or do some other type of advanced customization, Android is going to give you the freedom you need to do that," Anglin said.

But he points out that only a small number of developers really take advantage of that openess. "Most developers are simply trying to create apps that can work equally well on Android or iOS, so the open benefits of Android do not equally benefit all developers. Still, where iOS or Windows Phone may put up a wall limiting what you can do with a device, Android lets you pass," he explained.

Anglin says he hopes that Google does a better job of getting older versions of Android off the table so developers aren't forced to support these older versions for years.

As for fragmentation or differentiation, the only thing a developer cares about is that OS platform doesn't get in the way of them doing their job for whatever reason. Android's openess certainly affords flexibility that the competitors don't and that point's beyond debate.
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