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Android Fragmentation - Software, Hardware, Carriers and Manufacturer

Posted by C.S. Hsia on · Comments

A few days ago, I wrote a piece on why you should build native apps for Android devices, just to meet the expectations of Android users. In the article, I presented many arguments on why building native apps, natively without using one-size-fits-all SDKs will ultimately benefits your app. Today though, I present an inherent annoyance about developing for, or supporting Android devices with a real life example I encountered myself.

Fragmented Android

About a year ago, Apple's management team brought up the growing issue of Android fragmentation during a conference call, drawing the ire of many Android supporters. Many Android developers were quick to point out that Apple also has a fragmented ecosystem consisting of the iPhone (4 versions), iPod Touch (4 versions), and iPads, along with various different versions of iOS. It was believed that Android would fare no worse.

The problem is, handset manufacturers and carriers actually sometimes think they know better than Google. (Whereas nobody knows better than Apple)

If manufacturers and carriers all followed Google's specifications on Android, then there would not be an issue. The PC market worked this way for decades. However the open nature of Android OS allows handset manufacturers to tinker the device, for better or worse. Usually worse.

For example, a few weeks ago a Pay4Bugs client was presented with a bug report on its VPN service, claiming he could not connect with his Android powered phone. Worried that the service might have issues, the the VPN connection was tested repeatedly via PC, Mac, iOS, and finally Android. Everything worked.

Digger further into the issue, the Motorola Droid forums had the explanation. The support for VPN with passwords was REMOVED from the original Motorola Droid, running Android 2.1. Why Motorola (or perhaps Verizon) thought this was necessary we'll probably never know, but needless to say the reporter of the bug (and VPN customer) was quite disappointed, and even angry for his handicapped device.

No VPN for you!

That was but one small example of fragmentation, feel free to share yours in the comments below. With Google's recent proposed purchase of Motorola, hopefully future handsets will stick with the rules as defined by Google's Ice Cream Sandwich. All Google have to do now, is make sure Verizon and AT&T doesn't boss them around, because for the most part, I still believe you know better.

Ice Cream Sandwich, stick by it.

btw, if anyone knows how to get VPN to work on Droid, please also let us know below. I've pretty much given up on solving that issue.