Google hates the word fragmentation when it’s used to refer to the Android ecosystem. They call it the “F-word”. I’ve seen it used many ways, but generally when developers talk about Android being fragmented they are referring to the hundreds of devices that they have to support.
Some people would point to the fact that over 80% of devices run Android 2.x, so what’s the problem? All you need to do is code your app to work with the different platform versions and display sizes and it should work, right?
Recent updates to the Android Market even allow developers to filter out devices based on screen sizes and densities (and soon GL texture compression formats). If a developer knows that a group of devices will not support their app, they should just be able to block those users from ever downloading it.
What sounds like a simple task to some is actually a huge problem for the big Android game developers. Just ask EA Mobile and Gameloft.
Developers might be able to filter out devices based on certain specifications, but they are still unable to target individual handsets.
For example, just look at some of the comments on any of EA Mobile’s new games that just went on sale. You will find hundreds of complaints from upset customers who purchased a game only to find out it didn’t work on their phone. You would think that a large developer like EA Mobile could have prevented these problems before they occurred, but they are still struggling with it.
To make matters worse, many of these people were unable to get their money back because of the new 15 minute refund window. Google raised the max size of apps to 50 MB, but most 3D games easily go over that limit so developers have to create their own distribution methods to deliver the extra data files. This process takes place after the point of purchase and that’s a problem when it takes over 15 minutes to download the files needed to see if the game even works.
Gameloft is another big game developer that has struggled to support the massive number of Android devices. When they first tested the waters of the Android Market , they offered over 20 games. After experiencing all kinds of problems and user complaints, they have reduced that to a single title – Asphalt HD.
If game developers are removing their games from the Android Market and creating their own distribution channels (like Gameloft’s online store), then there is clearly a problem. These developers are essentially saying that it’s not worth the added support costs (and hit to their reputation) to offer their games in Google’s Market. I’ve been very tough on Gameloft in the past, but I’m starting to see things from their point of view.
So what’s the solution?