You’ve heard the term before. Everyone that’s even remotely interested in mobile obsession internet communities has heard this term become sort of a tagline or catch-phrase for those looking for a quick reason to disregard Android as a whole.
But what exactly is Fragmentation? Is it really as big a deal as people say? There’s definitely a load of half-truths, inferred misconceptions, flat-out lies and exaggerations going on that “they” will tell you. But first off, who are “they”? “They” would be the sources of all this fragmentation talk, as well as every poor soul who’s oblivion has turned them into a broken record that can only chant “fragmentation” over and over. It’s highly possible that you’ve already seen them littered about Apple communities, or even serving as an infectious wound as they apply their closet-marketing tactics on Android forums trying to convert people with talk of “low ICS penetration” as if it ultimately proved a broken ecosystem.
Before we continue though, the proposed definition of Fragmentation would yield a case where devices of a single operating system co-exist without uniform firmware support across all those devices. For the most part, this does accurately describe Android – but the major problem lies in the metric ton of details that are left out when choosing to judge Android purely in this manner.
One thing we should note is that Android has tapped into a level of diversity and variance touched by none other. When using an iPhone or any device running iOS, there’s never a sense of being able to do what you want – you’re acting within the confines of an area such that a child is allowed to play in a sandbox. You can throw some toys in, and other children can even come in with you – but you’re still confined to that sandbox. Android; on the other hand, allows us to step outside that sandbox, grow and develop (metaphorically speaking, that is).
To give some examples, users who want serious gaming on a smartphone can break free from the limitations of touch-screen controls with the Xperia Play, users who want a premium playback experience can watch movies in true stereoscopic 3D with the Evo 3D, users who want truly professional camera quality have a plethora of HTC phones that come closer and closer to eliminating the need for SLR cameras and users that have a higher focus on screen real estate have a consistently growing amount of phones which screen breaks the barrier right in between a phone and a tablet. Android can cover people wanting to use it as an Ubuntu device for true desktop functionality… or even satisfy the needs of one who simply wants a smartphone capable of only the bare basics with something that’s competent without all the bells and whistles. “They” will say whatever must be said to paint positives as negatives… using ‘ubiquity’ negatively or even citing cheaper phones as a ‘Free McDonald’s happy meal toy‘ to dodge the fact that it’s Android that truly has diversity, the fact that it’s Android that truly has variance, and the fact that it’s Android… that truly has every base covered.
Now lets take a bit of time to truly analyze the depth of content behind the firmware penetration issue. While the proposed figure of “10% penetration for 4.x.x” is long outdated as is, there’s also a whole other flaw in this argument that few catch on to. The obvious follow-up note is that buying something like an iPhone will net the buyer automatic, uniform and guaranteed updates – with the relative flaw being that Android and iPhone operate within completely different ecosystems.
Where an iPhone may be severely crippled without an update, Android’s got such a sense of growing freedom that a key-point of an update’s reason can easily become firmware-inexclusive. To (briefly) cite two examples, I’d like to extract three major uniform features of Android 4.0 – universal Notification Toggles, Camera Panoramic Captures and Data Management. These are all important things that, alone could completely justify the purchase of a phone over one that does not have these. If Android did not operate on the ecosystem that it does, users who were unable to update to Android 4.0 would be screwed… yet any given Android user can go straight to the Google Play Store and get Notification Toggle, Camera ICS and My Data Manager – and just like that, all those aforementioned major features of Android 4.0 were gained without actually having Android 4.0.
Do you see what was accomplished there? Effective proof that, while low Android 4.x penetration does exist, the actual effect of it has been highly exaggerated.
The reality of the matter is that, contrary to the case we’d see on iPhone, Android’s internal framework is future-proofed in such a manner that only the people using Android 1.5, 1.6 and 2.1 are at a disadvantage… and looking at the same chart people use to cite low ICS penetration, we see that – when all the lies, exaggerations are taken out of the equation, the real amount of people being screwed over barely surpasses 5%… far less than the amount of people complaining that their iPhone 3GS/iPhone 4 become slower or have drastically decreased battery life with their new updates.
There is a bit of genius behind this… as we go deeper into the marketing end of things, we learn all about shady marketing tactics, and how a true marketing mastermind can make consumers in masses believe a lie is the truth… and that’s exactly what’s happened. One powerful influence that’s enough of a smooth talker to twist very good aspects like diversity, freedom and variance into negatives in a manner that only another equally criminal mastermind would be able to identify.