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Android fragmentation: what Google’s new official numbers tell us

Android fragmentation: what Google’s new official numbers tell us

Google has just released an official breakdown of what Android phones use which version of its software. Thankfully for the Big G, a whacking 83 per cent of phones now use Android 2.x. That breaks down into 39.6 per cent using Android 2.1 Eclair, with FroYo finally taking the lead at 43.4 per cent.

android toy 1

The latter will doubtless be welcome news at Mountain View after manufacturers struggled to get the latest software onto their devices, especially those utilising custom skins. Worryingly, though, 10.6 per cent are still using Android 1.6 Donut, while 6.3 per cent remain stranded on the original Android 1.5.

Xperia Family

This will doubtless be made up of many Sony Ericsson phones which still use the old software, as well as early adopters unaware of how to upgrade – or else unable to. But it still represents a high figure and shows that Android fragmentation is a very real problem. What’s more, it’s about to get worse with the imminent rival of 2.3 Gingerbread and 3.0 Honeycomb waiting in the wings.

It’s taken the best part of six months for FroYo to surge ahead, having been unveiled way back at Google I/O in May and released over the summer. The question is, will phones stuck on Android 2.1 just skip straight to Gingerbread?

That would make sense, but then it also presents issues when features like NFC, which will be supported by the new software, need new hardware to work. It seems now to be much easier to simply release new hardware more regularly than updated software.

htc desire large

See the Desire HD and Desire Z with FroYo and compare them to the Desire, which took an eternity to make the jump to Android 2.2. So, how can Google ensure it keeps a balance between new developments and not causing millions phones to be left obsolete for months on end?

Perhaps releases of new software need to be better spaced. Gingerbread looks as if it’s going to be superseded pretty quickly, much in the same way Android 2.1 rocked up just weeks after Android 2.0 debuted on the Motorola Milestone. Is this a smart approach? And do consumers at large really care?

The latter will be Google’s argument and it’s hard to blame them. Average punters aren’t worried about maxing out their smartphone’s skills. That said, a large number of hardcore handset fanatics are, and they love Android’s open source nature.

Maybe it’s time Google took its foot off the gas with the software updates and took Apple’s annual approach with minor tweaks here and there. But as Android sales surge, don’t expect a change in strategy any time soon.

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