Fragmentation is Androids Biggest Challenge, says Mubaloo

Figures released recently by research firm Canalys revealed the growth of the Android OS, as it ousted Nokia as the world’s leading smartphone platform.

In Q4, 2010, 33.3m Android devices were shipped, compared to 31m Nokia handsets, 16.2m from Apple and 14.6m BlackBerrys.

But according to Ben Trewhella, CTO of app developer, Mubaloo, it will take time before Android apps attain the same quality as the ‘best in class’ apps available on the iPhone, in part because of the fragmentation issues around the platform.

Trewhella notes that Google has raced to the top of the market by offering its software to phone makers for free. Its success is highlighted by the speed with which is has overhauled sales of the iPhone. In Q4 2009, just 4.7m Android phones were shipped, compared to 8.7m running iOS. So while Apple has grown 85.9 per cent year-on-year, its market share has actually slipped from 16.3 per cent in Q4 ’09, to 16 per cent in Q4 ’10. Android, meanwhile, has grown an incredible 615.1 per cent in volume terms, and increased its market share from 8.7 per cent to 32.9 per cent year-on-year.
But, says Trewhella, the continued growth of the Android platform is dependent on how it deals with the problem of fragmentation, caused by the fact the platform is used by many different manufacturers – one problem Apple doesn’t have to deal with.
“The growth in Android has come from a large number of mobile manufacturers finding it easy to adapt to various screen sizes, hardware features and unique user interfaces,” says Trewhella. “This in itself causes fragmentation, with developers having to test across many devices and sometimes create device-specific versions. The problem is compounded, as the base Android operating system is constantly being developed by Google to provide new features such as Near Field Communication for contactless payments.
“Once a handset has been sold, the device manufacturer has little incentive to update their customised Android interface. This inevitably results in most Android users being left with an outdated version of Google’s OS.”
This fragmentation, Trewhella adds, is also an issue for developers, who may not have the different skillsets or time to develop for anything other than a single platform: most typically the iPhone, which does not suffer from the same fragmentation issue.
“This will prove to be a mistake in the long term,” he concludes. “The current growth of Android consumers, and particularly the accelerated rate of growth predicted in the next three years, indicates brands and agencies should be looking to take advantage of the new markets opening up. They should select development partners who have the proven ability to deliver apps across all the mobile platforms.”