“Android is a fragmented mess, you won’t find this problem with iOS”. Yup, this is a common sentiment I’m sure we’ve all heard before. Android gets a bad rep for fragmentation, in large part due to the sheer number of devices and form factors out there, and additionally due to the fact that many of these devices are either slow to update their OS version or simply skip the process altogether.

there are 18,796 distinct Android devices out there, up from 11,868 last year

A new report from OpenSignal hopes to shed a bit more light into just how fragmented the Android ecosystem is. Based on a survey of the last 682,000 devices to install its app, the company determined that there are 18,796 ‘distinct Android devices’ out there, up from 11,868 last year. That sounds like a big number, and it is, though it is more than likely that quite a few of these ‘distinct devices’ are the same but slight variants for different regions, carriers, configurations and so forth.

Regardless of how you slice it up, there’s still a massive ton of Android devices out there, especially compared to the eight different iPhones out there (not including carrier/regional model number variants). Even Windows Phone has a dramatically lower number of devices.

Further breaking down the information at hand, Samsung represents 43 percent of the pie, a good chunk but noticeably down from 47.5 percent last year. The visual report also highlights the massive difference between screen sizes and points out that only 20.9 percent of Android users are on KitKat, versus last year when nearly a third of users were on Jelly Bean (the then-most-recent OS). While we won’t go into all the details, if you want a look at just how Android sits when it comes to the number of devices and even a look at the differences between regions of the world, you’ll want to check out the full report.


So what’s the big picture here? Should we care?

We’ve covered these types of “fragmentation reports” many times here at Android Authority, and while they are an interesting look at the state of Android, should we really care? Yes and no. On one hand, Android fragmentation is real. There are a ton of devices with all sorts of different Android versions out there. As a result, developers do have to decide which versions and screen sizes to best support, leaving some older platforms and less-popular display sizes/resolutions out in the dark. That said, the issue is often exaggerated.

Android fragmentation is real, but the issue is often exaggerated.

For example, I have an old Samsung Galaxy Repp laying around that my wife used to have a couple years ago and we now use as a toy and a “Chromecast remote” for my daughter’s room. That junky single-core handset runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and lags like a champ. It’s old, it has a small screen, but most of the basic apps in Google Play still run on it. Some the apps even run fairly well. Graphics-intense stuff is obviously out of the picture, but the point is that these old handsets still work and are still developer supported (to an extent).

The problem with Android fragmentation isn’t that it exists. It’s how it is perceived. Those that judge Android’s fragmentation issues often look at the situation from “iPhone eyes”. With iPhone, having a device running on an older OS means you’re left out of a lot of the fun. Missed features, many apps won’t support you, and the list goes on.


naysayers will look at 11,868 devices as a problem, I look at it as a testament to the diversity found on the Android platform

With Android, some of the features added with newer versions of Android can be somewhat added through apps, launchers, widgets and other means. As for app support, a good number of apps support back as far as Gingerbread, and most work with ICS or higher. Being with an older version of Android isn’t fun if you’re a power user (and/or geek) that loves being on the latest and greatest. As an average user? You probably won’t notice the difference that much, as long as your device’s hardware is still reasonably capable.

So while naysayers will look at 11,868 devices as a problem, I look at it as a testament to the diversity found on the Android platform. As a proud Android user I’m glad that choice is abundant and that I’m not forced to endure just a few screen or processor choices. I like the freedom that comes with all sorts of price brackets, storage options and the list goes on.

Does having this diversity have some down sides for developers and consumers? Obviously, yes, but the issue isn’t the world-ender some would have you believe. This is especially true in recent times as Google has made measures to improve fragmentation by pushing out more of its apps to Google Play instead of rolling the changes out with system updates and the list goes on. What do you think, is Android fragmentation a problem area you wish Google would improve upon? Conversely do you feel Android critics and the press make a bigger deal out of the situation than they should?

Andrew Grush
Andrew is one of the three Managing Editors of Android Authority, primarily responsible for the overseeing of US team of writers, in addition to several other projects such as VR Source and more. He loves tech, gaming, his family, and good conversations with like-minded folks.
  • frankob

    Being a GNU/Linux user on desktop since 2005 or so… No, I am used to it, and I like it! :-)

  • Sandro

    I do agree that having a lot of possibilities is better than only 2 or 3. Nonetheless, I can’t see a perfect smartphone on the market right now, at least for us in Brazil. The best phones are either too big or too expensive. E.g.: Galaxy line has always been more expensive than the average monthly salary here, and the price doesn’t drop that much when you buy it on contract. The current Moto X would be the perfect for my needs today, IF it supports a SD card. And also, my small hands and large displays don’t go well together.

  • Sal

    Isn’t the Microsoft Window’s platform is to Android with its fragmentation issues? Correct me if I’m wrong on that. Windows 8 is the latest desktop operating system but yet not everyone has jumped on board to it. Most people are still on W7 since it still works well for them and they don’t feel the need to update. I’m on W7 and W8 is not a worthy upgrade right now but I’ll hold off to 9. There were still many people on XP and that forgettable Vista. So in a way it is diverse like Android only if you were to buy a new computer it will have W8 installed and not 7. Same with Android although few budget phones being released get an older version of Android installed.
    But the best thing with Android than iOS is even though you may no longer get official updates, you can continue to support your device with the latest unofficial version through rooting and custom roms. With iOS you are forced to upgrade if you want newer stuff.

    • Mozaik

      Apple forces update for consistency , because of this developer has to less concentrate on older version and developer can use latest version api and implement it without headeche of older version support because of this apps are better optmized and fluid , google is doing that also with kitkat update you cant go back to older version.

  • David Allen

    I really hate reading news like this. It’s really irritating. None of the Android fragmentation is Google’s fault. 40% of it falls on the carriers and the other 60% falls on the phone makers themselves. Google releases the info for the newest builds as soon as they possibly can. That is why most power users/geeks/nexus users get the latest and greatest within days of release. But when HTC/Sony/LG/Samsung get their hands on it well they have to play with it for months…and months….and months and try to make sure all their fatty ugly bloat ware and stupid “improvements” work with the new version of android and integrate all that crap in before they can release an update. That is why a Samsung rom for the phone I’m using currently a Note 2 clicks in at almost 2 gigs in size and a stock Google AOSP image clicks in at just a bit over 300MB. Seriously? Do users REALLY NEED 1.7 GIGS of bloat? But the problem is the delay doesn’t just stop there. After it makes it through the hands of the manufacturers then it must be bloated even further by the likes of AT&T/Verizon/Sprint/T-Mobile. They then spend the time to jack around and make sure all their Bloat works too. Then….maybe….eventually…..1 year after it was released by Google your 1 year old handset gets the update right as the NEXT version of Android is rolling out.

    • retrospooty

      Fault? Who cares. Fault isn’t an issue, the question you need to ask is “is it a problem”. No, not really. Apps work and Google Play services get updated. I mean, it sucks if you bought a low end phone and it didnt get upgraded to a newer OS, but high end ones do. You want upgrades? Buy a high end phone. – No problem.

      • David Allen

        I bought a high end phone. Within a week of it coming out. You know how long it took to get upgraded to Kit Kat? More than a year after it came out. An entire year! Samsung took almost 14 months to release an upgrade for a 700$ phone. Why? Because they’re too busy “customizing” things. If anything Google needs to put a stop to all the customizations that phone makers put into the OS and make them all separate app downloads. They could have an OS update available within weeks of getting source from Google instead of a year.

        • retrospooty

          So, don’t buy Samsung either. Legendary bloatware. You need to purchase wisely. BTW KK hasn’t been out for 14 months, and all of Samsung’s high end phones are on it and have been for a while

    • Android Developer

      so true, but the manufacturers do offer more than AOSP, so they do need to test it out.
      The sad thing is that sometimes they test it so much yet forget to optimize it, so they might just drop the update.
      This was the case of the SGS3 (I9300). I waited a long time for Kitkat, and then Samsung decided not to update it, claiming it doesn’t have enough memory for their stuff.
      It’s sad because going to AOSP roms removes a lot of features that I did like (call recording, HDMI, and now screen recording) which won’t work or won’t work well.
      It’s also a sad thing as it was less than 18 months since its release, so Samsung didn’t keep the “promise” to update one of its most popular smartphones.
      I wonder if that occurs now for SGS4 and SGS5 , if they can use AOSP roms and yet have those features running fine.

  • IDontKnowMyName

    Given that no manufacturer is going to ditch their custom android on their flagships, I think the best solution to minimise fragmentation is to load Google’s intended android, i.e. vanilla android on all midrange and low end devices from all manufactures. I know this won’t happen but it will be such an awesome solution. besides manufacturers abandon updating the mid range and low end devices early so having vanilla android on these devices means direct update from Google and possibly less fragmentation. just my 2 cents :)

    • AbbyZFresh

      Manufactuers don’t care about Google. They care more about selling the phones themselves under their brand and image. The only reason the Play Store exists on these phones is because of the OHA agreement and that it’s cheaper to use it rather than fork.

    • Android Developer

      I wish, but it’s against the interest of the manufacturers…

  • DarxideGarrison

    Well I’ll just stick with stock Android until the Nexus line it’s no more. Don’t need the unnecessary boat

  • hoggleboggle

    the whole fragmentation issue is a total red herring due to the way android is designed and structured. The varying screen sizes and resolutions aren’t an issue due to the way Android handles scaling unlike iOS and even the variation in the OS is misleading as a lot of core elements are actually separated and independent of the OS. The app store, maps and other elements are regularly updated (including security patches) even if your OS isn’t the latest.
    What’s more, take into account the number of android devices and you will find that whilst there may “only” be 16% of devices running KitKiat, the total number of devices this equates to actually surpasses the total install base of iOS7 which further weakens the case against Android fragmentation.

  • md

    Don’t forget the poor developers that have to deal with that topic. A lot of support for pre ICS devices got dropped lately and as google changes to android L this trend will emerge. If I would develop a new app I would target the 80 + x % that are using android 4 and later and I would test my app with the most widespread devices and screen sizes only. Anything else is suicide…
    You simply cannot deal with EVERY configuration out there. And as I’m developing software for over a decade now I can truly say: if it’s not tested it won’t work as expected. Especially when it comes to UI…

    Google should force the manufacturers to use standardized screen sizes like 4″, 4.5″, 5″… And at the same time tweak their UI elements in a way it can automatically handle it.

    And there definitely need to be a better separation of what handset manufacturers and providers can modify and what they cannot. It’s a pain in the neck that literally every google update is a breaking change for both… Only google has the power to force something like that and I hope they will in the near future.

    • Android Developer

      Actually, the sizes of the smartphones don’t matter much for developing, as long as you stick with the guidelines. The Android tools will show you how the app looks like on multiple screens, and you can always use an emulator.
      Tablets is another issue, as you need to think how to make it nice enough for users to use.
      It’s not an easy task, but it’s not that hard that people think it is.

    • Mike Reid

      >if it’s not tested it won’t work as expected. Especially when it comes
      to UI…


      And then there are app reviews that say “App sucks !!! Doesn’t work on my China Special 3000 ! “.

  • flamencoguy

    And iOS only about 12? Open source wins. Look at it this way and not about fragmentation. Not all are phones or tablets. Some are just appliances that never require updates.

  • Android Developer

    How could Nokia X be there with a big rectangle ?
    I didn’t know so many people have bought it…
    If it got this popular, how come it was abandoned and no new Nokia device will have Android anymore (at least not in the near future) ?