Android fragmentation – it’s looking pretty ugly

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.