Fragmentation—it has long been a part of the iOS versus Android debate, and it has long been a sore point among different people involved in the tech industry, from the developers to the consumers.
On the one hand, you have iOS, who makes its self-branded devices with practically one device per segment: the portable media player, iPod; the bestselling tablet, iPad; the new small-form-factor tablet, iPad Mini; and the no-introductions-necessary iPhone. Then there’s Android—it of the multitude of devices spanning different market segments and being supplied by a seemingly endless stream of manufacturers.
Staying Up to Date
Back in June’s WWDC, Apple did not fail to point out that over 80 percent of the iOS user base was then running the latest iOS version, compared to the mere 7 percent of Android users who had access to the latest Android OS version (which was then Ice Cream Sandwich), when the majority was still running the previous version.
There’s just one little problem with that. Sure, many iOS users can say they’ve upgraded to the latest OS and all, but it’s not like the ones with the older models get to enjoy all of the features of the latest OS. Most often, the hardware limitations prevent it from being so. In this case, the OS version simply becomes a statistic and not really a practical measure of a manufacturer or publisher being able to give its user base the most current features it can offer.
And then there’s Android. There are just so many devices out on the market, and more see the light of day faster than you can say Jelly Bean. With every incremental update to Android, it just makes fragmentation seem worse than it actually is. For example, Galaxy S III users on 4.1 right now aren’t sweating because there’s no 4.2 just yet. It’s not that major of an update, but the ‘fragmentation’ is giving the whole ecosystem a bad name.
Gadgets and the Physical Attributes
Another aspect of fragmentation is the devices themselves, or at least when it comes to their physical attributes, sizes and shapes and all that. You might have a utilitarian business phone, a mega-screened entertainment phone, a full-size tablet, and whatnot—in this age, there are phones of different shapes and sizes.
The iPhone has pretty much stuck to the same form factor until the relatively radical change that came with the 4-inch iPhone 5. You have your constant full-sized iPads, with the introduction of a new smaller iPad Mini, which isn’t really much of a problem as it makes use of the same aspect ratio as the older iPads. Android, meanwhile, has thousands of devices with different screen sizes, resolutions, setups, and spec sheets. So yeah, on this end, you can pretty much say the Google OS really is fragmented. Some would argue that choice is a good thing, as some people prefer their 4.7-inch or 5-plus-inch powerhouses but others would prefer more compact packages. Still, this affects the optimization of apps, as well as the effort that developers have to exert to ensure quality and usability in their endeavors.
Fragmentation has many faces, and these are always among the considerations when one is off to purchase a new mobile device. It may not be a direct consideration most of the time—after all, the average Joe might not give a damn about the pixel density of this device or how optimized his Angry Birds will be on this or that device—but there are factors that can usually be linked to fragmentation. Still, Android is enjoying a good amount of market share regardless of its perceived fragmentation situation, so I guess the sheer amount of choices within the ecosystem is still working for it rather than against it.