Android has come a long way since v1.6 Donut back in 2009. In under three years it has attracted nearly 250 million or to put it into a different perspective nearly quarter of a billion users. That's a lot of people using a lot of phones. What does this mean for Android, as a platform, in 2012?
The good ship 'Android' seems to be in ship shape condition as of January 2012. Market Research, whilst highlighting post-Jobs Apple iPhone sales boost, indicates that Android's market share is growing, and growing strong. Although the wider impact of singular handset manufacturers, like Apple, versus multi handset vendors, like HTC or Samsung, highlight the central problem in Android's eco-system.
Android 2.3.3 distro is now the most popular variant of Android. According to figures released by Google, as of the 1st of February 2012, 58.1% of all Android users have Android 2.3.3. The importance of this figure is rivalled by the slower rise of Ice Cream Sandwich or Android 4.0 which has 0.03% market share as of the same period. The importance of this lies in the platform differentiation between the distributions. This blog, has on many occasions, discussed the wider impact of OS fragmentation. The problems of OS fragmentation have, largely, been fixed - the issue facing users in 2012 is of handset eco-system fragmentation.
Ice Cream Sandwich will highlight this vulnerability within the Android eco-system with renewed user-complaints on handset fragmentation. The ICS update, for example, on HTC handsets, will not be available to all users below their HTC Sensation-level phones. Meaning all Desires, Heros and Wildfire variant users will be denied ICS updates in 2012.
More phones for the scrap heap? What does this say - do we need perpetual cutting edge expansion in the phone industry which means phones are useless within days of being sold? We have handsets now that can access bank accounts, pay for goods, buy cinema, train or other tickets and entertain us with music, video or television on demand whilst continuing to give us social media feed updates along with the occasional phone call and text message. The problem here is that Apple or BlackBerry do have handset and OS working in harmony. The Open Handset Alliance fails on this precise point.
The Samsung Galaxy SII and the Samsung Galaxy Mini are two phones, running the same Android OS but have wildly different handset fragmentation issues. For example; some apps like BBC iPlayer wont work on HTC Wildfire S but will on HTC Desire S. The same issue is visible on the two Samsung examples cited above when playing Need for Speed Shift a game designed by Electronic Arts but on the Galaxy Mini handset is a non-starter as it wont work on that handset.
The problem is that Android, whilst it has matured, is still a young OS. The breakneck speed by which Google is publishing updates is unrelenting - the seven month "gap" between Froyo and Gingerbred clearly highlights this fact. The OS is released to handset vendors AND phone companies who need to tweak it for their own ends - because we all want Vodafone 360 Music or Verizon Music don't we? The tweaking is adding a delay on updates but it is important to remember that Froyo isn't that old?
We need to understand a key point - HTC or Samsung do not make money from updates. Those free OS updates cost the handset manufacturer money and as such they don't get anything in return. Think about it this way the HTC phone with Froyo or Gingerbread that isn't being updated forces the user to abandon that phone, whilst hopefully buying a newer model. That's the Samsung, HTC or even Sony market plan. That's why its not in manufacturers best interests to issue updates.
Apple or Blackberry update direct to handset but Android, as stated above, goes through the carriers/phone manufacturers. Perhaps Google will have to allow certain updates to by-pass carriers. There has been research published by Michael Degusta which found that a majority of phones were sometimes 3 OS versions behind the latest version. The wider impact of this Google phenomenon has only just become visible.
The implications of this OS Update fragmentation will change the way users interact with Android. For all the market share increases - if Google continues this path an exodus might occur to Windows/Nokia, Apple or BlackBerry and will reverse the stampede towards Android we are now seeing.
http://developer.android.com/resources/dashboard/platform-versions.html (accessed 06/02/2012)
http://theunderstatement.com/post/11982112928/android-orphans-visualizing-a-sad-history-of-support (accessed 06/02/12)
http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2012/2/comScore_Reports_December_2011_U.S._Mobile_Subscriber_Market_Share (accessed 06/02/12)