Of the many things that get said about Android in an derogatory tone, my least favorite is that of “fragmentation”. The biggest reason for my distaste of the subject is typically the extra junk that gets lumped in, causing even the most rational of conversations to tailspin into a fanboy fight. It’s a subject that is neither clearly defined, nor is there a platform right now that does not also suffer from fragmentation to some extent. The truth of the matter is that Android takes more heat regarding fragmentation due to the volume of handsets that are running the OS. So, my distaste of the subject typically leaves me unwilling to even talk about it, until now. Unfortunately, I see Android on the verge, and in some way already beyond the point, of having actual fragmentation issues.
I was quick to ignore it, but the signs are all around us. The first, and likely the most significant in the not-so-distant future, is app development. When NVIDIA dropped the Tegra 2 Processors, Android saw the advent of the Tegra Zone and Android Market apps with “THD” (Tegra High Definition) on the end. NVIDIA isn’t the only one playing this particular game, either. At this year’s Game Developer Conference, Qualcomm could be seen wooing game developers with the promise of a dual-core chipset with native 3D audio support to create a truly immersive mobile gaming experience. At Appnation this past week, Qualcomm made their Developers Kit, which includes a dev phone made entirely by Qualcomm, for sale to developers. There are already several really impressive looking games on their way to Android, but they will be specifically optimized for the Qualcomm chipset.
Let’s not forget the increasing chasm that exists between Android 2.3 and Android 3.0. This week alone I have installed 3 different apps that either could not run on 3.0, or displayed an error upon install that informed me my device was not supported. Backbreaker HD, which ran amazingly on my phone, isn’t optimized for Tegra 2, and as a result is not even playable. Earlier today, as excited as I was to finally see HBO Go for Android, I was unable to use the service on my Xoom, because my device wasn’t supported. Soon, we’ll see Netflix for Android, but it will only run on Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon hardware. The list goes on and on, and the end result is that one day EVERYONE will own a phone that can’t do SOMETHING in the Android world.
Every answer I can think of when it comes to a solution to this problem is the wrong one. Google can’t get involved in policing apps for functionality, lest we lose the “open” Market we’ve come to love so much. The hardware manufacturers will continue to give you a reason to buy one of THEIR phones, and just wait until the carriers get involved so that the random awesome game you want is only available on AT&T. Don’t get me wrong, some parts of this are going to be just amazingly awesome. The rich graphics, the amazing sound, the more powerful handsets are all going to rock, but what exactly is the cost of that much awesome?