Just one Android to rule them all
Friday, 18 February 2011

Android fragmentation is a thing of the past - but only in the future. Google seems to be planning to solve all our problems by just having one operating system.

 

While not wishing to speak ill of our favourite robot, Android just comes in too many versions. In a very short space of time we have seen too many upgrades to the core operating system - a situation made worse by the sluggish way that vendors treat upgrades to existing phones.

android

The good news is that according to Google (see its Platform Versions statistics chart) 90% of Android phones are currently running version 2.1 and above. This may be true but you still get requests from users stuck with 1.5 for your app and fewer than 1% are running the current latest version 2.3 (Gingerbread).  Add to this the fact that we have version 3.0 (Honeycomb) about to hit real devices - but only if they are tablets.

The split between 2.3 and 3.0 is the worst fragmentation to date because it positions Android on two classes of hardware with different capabilities. True, the typical screen size of a tablet makes it possible to run apps that wouldn't make much sense on a tiny phone but the separation into two operating systems it undesirable and makes code management more difficult than it need be.

At the recent Mobile World Congress Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt gave some hints on how Google plans to deal with the fragmentation - by simply merging 2.3 and 3.0 into a single operating system - perhaps codenamed Ice Cream or something similar.

Of course this raises the question of why split them in the first place if putting them together is so easy? Why the features in 3.0 couldn't have been put into an intermediate version that would custom install on a phone or a tablet is a mystery - perhaps it is just a matter of doing things in a way that gets the code to market. Android 3.0 already has a facility which allows  applications to be built using "activity fragments" that will permit them to adjust to different amounts of available screen real estate.

You can add to this the intriguing suggestion that Chrome OS will also merge with Android. This is probably cryptic speak for "Chrome OS will vanish and its place in the ecosystem will be taken by a descendant of Android 3.0 that also works on netbooks". Isn't a netbook just a tablet without touch?

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