“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?