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Android Gingerbread: why fragmentation rumour should have fans worried

Android Gingerbread: why fragmentation rumour should have fans worried

Word is out about what we can expect from Android 3.0, codenamed Gingerbread. Ok, Google’s Dan Morrill, one of Android’s key staffers, has used Twitter to say “rumors [sic] are not official announcements”, but the talk about what we can expect from the new build is mighty impressive. Word is Android 3.0 will come with a rejigged UI based on the Nexus One’s gallery app. That would certainly spruce things up, especially as the vanilla look is starting to tire somewhat two years on from its initial unveiling.

google nexus one large

But it’s talk about minimum requirements for Gingerbread that really raise concerns. According to last week’s speculation, phones running the full-on OS would need a 3.5-inch touchscreen, 1 Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, a 1280x760 minimum resolution for devices with panels bigger than four inches and less reliance on third-party skins.

Now, Morrill has clearly slated these rumours, but they do point towards a split in an OS which has, until now, shown strength in unity across all of its devices. Skins may have been different, but the basic build remains true. It’s the fault of manufacturers if they can’t boost their phones to the most recent version of Android. But these new specs suggest that, in the not-too-distant future, cheaper phones which don’t meet the standard will be stranded on Android 2.2 or lower.

That raises the spectre of fragmentation. So, you could buy a simple HTC Android phone with one old-school version of the OS, or a top-notch one with Gingerbread. One of Google’s biggest strengths has been the fact that Android works on both low and high-end devices, giving phones like the T-Mobile Pulse Mini a real edge on their rivals.

t-mobile pulse mini

But it seems with Gingerbread, the Big G is pursuing a more aggressive strategy in the top end of the market, looking to stymy iOS4 with some stunning devices that’ll grab those all- important headlines.

However, Google will do well not to forget the low end. Customers demand more than ever from their phones, no matter what they cost. The success of phones such as the HTC Wildfire is proof of this.

If it starts splitting Android, the search giant will create aspiration on the one hand, but confusion on the other. Too many different versions and you can guarantee punters won’t have a clue what’s happening. They only need to look at Nokia’s current approach to Symbian and MeeGo to see how to handle these things badly.

Perhaps this is why skins are being pushed to one side. If Google can make Gingerbread tightly integrated like HTC Sense, but still offer a great experience on the low end, it may well succeed. But this will require handset makers to be supportive in its quest for a two-tier offering. If loads of new proprietary looks start coming into the equation too, Android may well lose the edge that it’s been developing in recent months.

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