iOS 6 fragmentation more evident in iPhone, iPad and iPod touch universe, but is it really an issue?

September 22, 2012
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One of the valid arguments behind adopting an iOS device is the fact that Apple’s devices are always receiving updates on time and that carriers have no say in when these updates are rolled out – that also means they have no bloatware included in any iPhone version.

But the more iOS devices come out and the higher the iOS version, the more fragmentation elements appear in this mobile ecosystem.

Fragmentation, or ‘differentiation’ – the in-denial term Eric Schmidt used at CES 2012 to describe this phenomenon – is mostly an annoyance for Android fans and developers, and no matter what spin you put on it, at the end of the day you’ll find plenty of evidence that proves that annoyance. Just look for one of the latest Android updates for one of the recently launched devices and see what users are saying about it, especially if it’s being delayed without answer, or at the apps that take their time to become compatible with certain Android devices.

Today we’re going to look at Apple’s iOS 6 state of fragmentation, what’s causing it, and whether it’s comparable to the same phenomenon in the Android unverse.

Hardware fragmentation

Just like with any other operating system, whether mobile or not, it comes a time when older devices will no longer be able to run the features of the latest OS version. The same thing is valid for Android and iOS.

Looking at iOS 6, even if the OS still has the same overall look and feel, older devices will not support some of these features. According to Apple, iOS 6 will not be compatible with a variety of devices, including the original iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPod touch, iPod touch 2G, iPod touch 3G and the iPad. We’re especially surprised to see the iPad not get updated to iOS 6, despite being a newer device than the iPhone 3GS, which can be run iOS 6.

Marketing fragmentation

While devices from 2009 to 2012, including the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch 4G, iPod touch 5G, iPad 2 and iPad 3 will run iOS 6, the fact remains that not all iOS 6 features will be available on all these iOS devices.

Why is Apple doing this? Well, first of all the company may be interested to offer certain features only on certain devices, using them in its pitches and TV ads to convince buyers to buy that particular device in order to take advantage of said update. Take the 2011 iPhone 4S and its exclusive Siri feature that wasn’t officially available on any other iOS device that supported iOS 5.

iOS 6 – Siri

Secondly – and here the hardware fragmentation also plays a part – Apple maybe wants to avoid bad press and publicity that would result from allowing certain features to run on older devices. Its engineers have probably tested extensively some of these features on compatible devices to conclude they shouldn’t be supported on older gadgets.

So what are the iOS 6 features that you won’t be able to use on some older devices?

  • Siri – only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 3 and iPod touch 5G
  • Turn by turn navigation (Apple Maps feature) – only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2 and iPad 3 (only versions that have cellular connectivity)
  • Flyover (Apple Maps feature) – only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2, iPad 3 (only versions that have cellular connectivity), iPod touch 5G
  • FaceTime over cellular – only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 3 (only versions that have cellular connectivity)
  • Offline reading list – only on iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2, iPad 3
  • Panorama (Camera feature) – only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5G
  • Made for iPhone hearing aids phone feature – only on iPhone 4S and iPhone 5
  • Passbook – only on iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch 4G, iPod touch 5G
  • AirPlay Mirroring – only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2, iPad 3 and iPod touch 5G

From the looks of it, in order to get all the iOS 6 features (I have not included phone features in the list above except for the “made for iPhone hearing aids” thing, since they are available only on the iPhone), you’ll have to buy an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 3 or iPod touch 5G.

Comparatively, when Jelly Bean becomes available on supported devices, we expect that all Jelly Bean features to be accessible on those devices, no matter what custom UI lies on top of the OS. Sadly though, not as many Android devices will be Jelly Bean-upgradeable – looking at numbers, we’ll probably conclude that a lot less Android devices will run Google’s latest mobile OS version compared to iOS devices that run the latest Android version.

iPhone 5 fragmentation

When it comes to apps though, all iOS 6 apps will be compatible with all iOS 6 supported devices, so there’s no reason to worry there. But does the iPhone 5 cause any app fragmentation? While Android fans would like to hear that it would, the real answer is that it won’t really happen.

All current iOS apps that have graphics optimized for 3.5-inch displays (no matter what resolution, because not all 3.5-inch iOS devices come with the same resolutions) will work on the iPhone 5. Yes, those apps will get a black frame at the top and bottom of the device, but they’ll still work – in case you have seen a black bar on an Android device that you desperately tried to get rid off then you’ll know what it means.

Considering the popularity of the App Store, and the revenue it drives to so many developers, chances are that the most used and downloaded apps, but not only, will soon support the new iPhone’s higher resolution, and eliminate those black bars.

iPhone 5 vs Galaxy S3

Moreover, if its iPhone 5 fragmentation sounds familiar that’s because a couple of years ago the media was exploring the effects of the iPhone 4 would have on the app ecosystem, a device that came with a much higher resolution than its predecessor. It turned out that the introduction of that Retina display resolution was not exactly a major problem for developers.

Region-specific fragmentation

In addition to everything mentioned above, we’ll also point out the fact that some iOS 6 features won’t be available to users depending on where they live. The lists includes Apple Maps functionality, Siri support and Dictation (as long as you’re not happy using them in English) but also App Store and iTunes content (especially the later in certain markets.)

Comparatively, Android users will have access to Google Maps in any region of the world, but when it comes to Google Play content, especially movies and music, Google is yet to bring to various markets.

Jailbreak and user fragmentation

This last iOS fragmentation “tool” isn’t Apple’s doing, as the company does not condone jailbreaking/unlocking its iOS devices, even though such procedures are legal.

Jailbreaking lets users customize iOS to a greater extent than what Apple’s default OS permits. The procedure is also needed for unofficial carrier unlocks and for side-loading apps from a different source than the App Store, which is the only place where iOS users can get their apps from – and yes, that includes pirating paid apps from the App Store.

Because there are millions of iOS users that jailbreak their devices for various reasons, not all the eligible iOS devices will be upgraded to iOS 6 just yet, at least not until hackers give the go ahead. That means jailbreaking is another fragmentation factor, as a percentage of existing iOS devices will still run older iOS versions.

From a different point of view, sometimes jailbreaking allows developers to port some of the iOS features that are available by default on only certain iOS devices to unsupported devices.

Comparatively, Android users can always flash custom ROMs to their devices to take advantage of the latest Android OS released by Google which is used by developers to create such ports for Android handsets and tablets that would otherwise have to wait months to get updated.

One last thing that needs to be said is that not all smart device users are aware updates are coming, especially the less-savvy, less-interested ones. To those, the fragmentation problem does not exist no matter what mobile OS they choose, because chances are they may not be interested in timely updates in the first place.

Conclusion

iOS 6 further expands iOS fragmentation, although it’s worth noting that Apple is trying to minimize the impact of this process, and iOS fragmentation will not be felt as acutely by iOS device owners as Android handset and tablet buyers feel the effects of this phenomenon in the Android ecosystem.

Microsoft is taking a similar approach with its Windows Phone 8 OS, which won’t be available on current Windows Phone 7 handsets as WP8. Instead the Redmond-based company will offer users a WP7.8 version that will include some of the WP8 features, but not all of them.

Getting back to iOS 6 fragmentation, we’ll tell you again that it’s more pronounced than the fragmentation caused by previous software updates. At the same time we’ll tell you that the devices that aren’t supported by iOS 6 (iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPod touch, iPod touch 2G, iPod touch 3G, iPad) represent only a few millions from the over 400 million iOS devices out there – of those that are incompatible with iOS 6 most of them are probably original iPads.

But if you’re a hardcore Android fan that wants to finally use the fragmentation argument against iOS users, you’ll have to know you don’t have a very strong weapon in your hands, as Apple’s controlling its iOS fragmentation a lot better than Google, so use it wisely.

We’ll stop here before we get into the closed vs open model business for the two environments, which are the main factors that affect fragmentation.

It’s worth mentioning that while iOS 6 is used by millions of iOS users already, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean are taking their time to deploy, even on certain Nexus devices which should get updates as soon as Google releases them. Will Android fragmentation ever be fixed? While one can hope that ‘Yes’ is the answer, considering Google’s steps in that direction (see our PDK coverage here), the fact remains the Search giant can’t control the agendas of OEMs and carriers that are more interested in selling as many devices and cellular services, respectively, than updating past devices in a timely manner.

Has anyone given up on Android due to its fragmentation problem? And while we’re asking, are you moving to Android because of iOS 6 fragmentation? Hit us up in the comments section below!

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