PhoneDog Live Recap: How much does fragmentation affect Android in the OS battle?

Sydney Myers – writer
Published: April 8, 2011

Every Friday, PhoneDog broadcasts a live show called PhoneDog Live (catchy, I know) where we discuss the latest in mobile tech and news. This week's topic was Fragmentation and the OS Battle. Fragmentation is a topic that has been discussed on just about every mobile tech blog, it's been studied by numerous research firms, and has been commented on by countless developers, CEOs, manufacturers, and the like. Some people say that fragmentation is an issue and some people say that it's not an issue. The real question however is not just if it's a problem or if it exists, but how does it affect Android in the OS battle? Would a person actually intentionally buy an iPhone or some other smartphone instead of an Android device because they don't want to deal with "fragmentation?" Will iOS eventually win the OS battle simply because of this fragmentation issue? Well, those are the questions we presented to our viewers and discussed in this week's PhoneDog Live.

I strongly believe that the best opinion is one that is informed. A misinformed opinion basically means nothing because it's not based on any solid evidence. So let's look at the facts.

  • In May 2010, just before Android version 2.2 was released, version 2.1 was on 37.2% of Android devices, 1.5 was on 34% of Android devices, and 1.6 was on 28% of devices. (That stat alone is horrific, but that's just the setup.)
  • After 2.2 was released in May, October 2010 reports from Google showed that the number of devices with 2.1 had actually grown to 40.4%. Grown. After a newer version was released. (Presumably this number grew because devices with 1.5 and 1.6 were upgraded to 2.1. Why they were not upgraded to 2.2, who knows?)
  • Nearly one year after 2.2 was released, 2.1 is still on nearly 30% of Android devices, a decrease of only 10% from May 2010.
  • It took an entire year to get 2.2 onto only 63.9% of devices. I say "only" because a year should be plenty of time to deliver a .x update to all devices. Plenty.

Now we have another new version of Android that was just released so we'll have to start this entire process all over again. I don't know about you, but if it takes another year to get 2.3 onto 60% of Android phones and 2.2 and 2.1 are still on 40% of the other phones, I think it's safe to say that Google has a problem.

So, is this a big deal? Does it actually affect Android in the OS battle? Will Android loose ground to iOS because of this fragmentation problem? That's what I asked our viewers during PhoneDog Live. Interestingly, the response was mixed. Some people said that Google should definitely do something about it and that it is a big problem, but other people said that most consumers don't even know what the update is much less if their phone should get it.

Both sides make solid arguments. My argument is that 33.4% (actually 97.3% if you count 2.2 in this group) of Android users are using an outdated version of the OS. However, the argument also stands that the majority of those users don't know and don't care. As long as the phone works and does was it says it does, then they're satisfied.

The numbers show that the latter is probably the most accurate depiction of the situation. Both IDC and Gartner, two well-respected analyst firms, have estimated that Android would control half of the smartphone market by either 2012 or 2015, with iOS, RIM, and Windows Phone 7 hardly being able to put up a fight.

I want to know what you think. Do you think fragmentation could cause Android to loose users or are the IDC, Gartner, and our beloved viewers correct in saying that most people won't even notice?

Also, if you would like to join the next broadcast, PhoneDog Live starts at 5 p.m. ET every Friday. We broadcast from our Ustream channel, but you can also watch the show from our Facebook page or from our site. This week's broadcast was recorded and you can watch it below. NOTE: The stream froze with 10 minutes left in the broadcast so this video cuts off abruptly.

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