Feature Article

September 03, 2013

Google Solves Android Fragmentation Problem

One of the major, and most valid, criticisms levelled against Android is fragmentation. After all, there are six versions of the mobile OS still being used in decent numbers, with early 2011’s Gingerbread (version 2.3) still taking up a significant portion of Android users; the latest version makes up only 6 percent. For app developers, this situation is quite a headache, while end users often find themselves locked out of enjoying certain apps or system functionality.

However, fragmentation is a problem inherent to the open model Google has based Android on. In other words, fragmentation is the price we all pay for the wide variety of devices that run Android. But this is Google we’re talking about, a company composed of creative thinkers, so it’s not too surprising that there may be an elegant solution to the fragmentation problem.

Let’s start with the latest updates to Android. Version 4.3 was introduced earlier this summer to little fanfare, largely eclipsed by the release of the new Nexus 7 tablet. Indeed, with no new killer features, but rather boring under-the-hood enhancements, Android 4.3 did little to capture the imagination.


Image via Shutterstock

This doesn’t mean Google has run out of steam, though. On the contrary, this year’s Google I/O conference had a number of cool, new features and services — all of which came in the form of apps. This ingenious move means that Google can sidestep the fact that most device manufacturers are slow to roll out new Android updates, while giving users stuck with older versions of the OS access to new features.

To facilitate this new delivery method, Google Play Services now plays a vital role within Android to the point that Ars Technica went so far as to say that Google Play Services is Google’s new platform. Indeed, the app has access to practically every app in Android, with many apps unable to function without its presence.

The important part, though, is that Play Services is part of the Google apps package and is therefore not open source, putting it directly under Google’s control. With this control, Google pushed all of its latest services to 98.7 percent of active Android devices within a week of this year’s Google I/O.

In other words, Google has largely overcome the fragmentation issue that has plagued Android since its inception with a more modular approach to updating the OS. This means better support across all devices and a steadier stream of updates with only one caveat: Android version updates are going to be kind of boring from now on.




Edited by Alisen Downey


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