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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Support Fragmentation: Is this the biggest problem Android faces in 2011?



The arguments surrounding Android OS fragmentation fears are pretty old and obsolete but there is a new fear within the Android community which is platform fragmentation. Electronic Arts new video game Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is available on the Android market. But it’s only available for 600mhz+ processor-based devices. The issue here is that whilst EA have made the video game backwards compatible to Android 1.6 the game hasn’t been tailored to suite all processors.


Why is this important? Well this year sees the explosive growth of new tablets all running new kinds of microprocessors. The TEGRA chipset manufactured by Nvidia or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset have set the bar even higher by incorporating extensive technologies and processes which have made processor fragmentation a real threat to the Android platform.


The Android platform’s USP (Unique Selling Point) is that it is part of a broad ecosystem whereby the OS is not dependant on a singular device. This device-agnostic approach means that Android has the capability to work with device manufacturers to create different kinds of devices to suite different needs. The importance of this in the context of processor fragmentation is that apps and services are being linked to hardware.

So whilst Android apps can be made backwards compatible there will be, if this continues, a class differentiation (and please forgive the Marxian metaphor) will occur whereby flagship devices will have both the hardware and software capabilities but other devices will not be so lucky.

This is an important year for Android as it is set to take the tablet world by storm. Motorola Xoom is already being released and soon HTC will be releasing the Flyer and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and other manufacturers are shipping Android tablets too. RBC Capital Markets General Manager made a speech to investors where he argued that in 2011 Tablet revenues will reach $ 11 Billion plus but by 2014 revenues could hit $ 70 Billion. And Android, because of its broad eco-system basis, will beat Apple to become the number one Tablet/Smartphone OS provider(1).


So, if this is Android’s year then it needs to get a standardised hardware benchmark in place whereby if your device runs hummingbird, Tegra or Snapdragon processors regardless of what Android OS variant your running then the app will work regardless. What is Google doing to help this become a reality?

Android Compatibility Package has been released to help developers make their apps backwards compatible and also create a sort of universal screen resolution spec whereby an app will run on different devices. But the ACP does not create the same set of functions in relation to processors. This needs to be achieved and achieved soon.

The BlackBerry PlayBook or Apple iPad is based on a singular hardware framework and therefore developers have strict architecture to base their product on. That’s why Apple have a lot more ‘quality’ apps the Android maturity/fragmentation issue has hampered this goal. But what’s now needed is for not hardware universality because that would be counter-productive and go against the very essence of Android but to focus Android developers not on singular processors but multi support for different processors.


Honeycomb will introduce this feature as it will support single or multicore microprocessor architectures. This will help in the fight against processor fragmentation within the Android ecosystem(2). Honeycomb through is a tablet variant of Android and Gingerbread which is currently the newest variant of Android on smartphone devices means there are still developmental issues at stake here. But the news that Jim Schmidt stated at the WMC that Gingerbread and Honeycomb will merge is incredibly important in overcoming the issue of microprocessor fragmentation within the Android platform.

(1) https://www.rbccm.com/about/cid-202793.html

(2) http://developer.android.com/guide/practices/design/performance.html

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