Android fragmentation – it’s looking pretty ugly

By May 16, 2012Apple, Google, Mobile

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of open systems and have been following the battle between Android and Apple’s iOS with interest. For a long time I have thought that the most likely outcome is that Android becomes the dominant player with Apple remaining important with a significant but minority market share. However, as time has passed and events unfolded I think Apple’s chances of prevailing have been increasing, largely due to their total dominance of the tablet market.

Today I saw some detailed data on the extent of fragmentation in the Android community, and whilst in a straight odds bet I would still back Android, I am now thinking that is a pretty close call.

OpenSignalMaps have an Android app that shows the signal strength available from different carriers and they did an analysis of devices accounting for 681,900 of their downloads. The chart below is a graphical breakdown of which phones accounted for the most downloads, and as you can see there are a huge number of tiny rectangles. Overall they counted 4,000 different devices. (The green square with the label GT-I9100 is the Samsung Galaxy SII, and if you click through to the original post you will find an interactive version of the chart with more device level information.)


4,000 devices is an awful lot (even with the caveat that custom ROMs overwriting the variable will have inflated the numbers a bit) and a big challenge for developers given the variety in OS’s, screen sizes etc. If you click through to the original post there is more information on both these elements and all I will say here is that homogeneity is thin on the ground and only 8.4% of devices are on the latest version of the OS (Ice Cream Sandwich 4.04).

Fragmentation makes it difficult for developers to deliver a consistent and high quality experience and based on this data I would say that for startups with a choice beginning with iOS is a no-brainer, particularly given the low numbers of phones running Ice Cream Sandwich. This reflects what I see in the companies we work with and talk to, and whilst I have previously thought I detected a shift towards developing first for Android, now I’m not so sure.

Access to the latest apps is important for early adopters and maintaining the iOS’s status as the first choice for app developers will be real boon for Apple.

  • Although an experienced Android developer told me it was reasonably trivial to code around the OS differences. Screen resolution differences are of course not new to mobile, web developers have been working with that for two decades…

  • Interesting. Thanks.

  • Fragmentation is more difficult than at first glance. Different Screen ratios means more pain. UI at least until 4.0 is very basic compared with iPhone.. You need to do a lot of coding for stuff which on iPhone is ready to go. Iphone screens – how cool is that – Iphone 4gs having exactly double horizontal and vertical resolution.

    Also iOs is incredibly smooth – Android 4.0 might be an improvement however on the UI and usability iOs is much better.

    Java better as a language.. Widgets are here to stay.. Just glance at your phone screen and see all meetings at once – no icons to click.. push versus pull.

    MacBook Air and HTC fan.

  • Tks Sharky

  • 🙂 I think their mobile market share is too small for anybody to bother about

  • Rovio with their Angry Birds considered Windows not worth the effort of rewritting their game. That’s not a good sign.
    Ovi Store is out, Blackberry out this January. Windows should have taken advantage and grow. They should have thrown lots more money to app developers much more sooner. They lack traction.

  • dang1

    Most people are getting Androids, many more than iPhones, mainly because the choices of Androids devices. People use very few apps- Facebook and Google’s offerings mostly. Tablets are fad accessory devices, and interest in them is plateauing; phones and laptops are sufficient for most people.

  • Choice in devices is Androids biggest asset. It was interesting yesterday reading speculation about the screen size on the next iphone. They will probably only ship one device and it will inevitably disappoint many.

  • Great post, when I shared it round my office one of our UX experts pointed me to a G+ post that makes interesting reading on the subject.  It’s fragmented sure, but getting better not worse?

  • Thanks Lee. That’s interesting to read. Given the recent success of Android if fragmentation is declining that’s very positive.