Jul 11 AT 10:39 AM Anthony Domanico 21 Comments

Anthony Domanico’s Complaint Department: App Fragmentation

Hello newsfans! We at Android and Me are trying to shake things up a little bit and thought it would be cool to bring you guys some regular posts that are a bit off the beaten path. In addition to the regular coverage we know you all love, we’ll be writing a few standing weekly columns on various topics related to your favorite mobile operating system. Now, I can’t let you in on what we’re planning on doing just yet (mostly because the column you’re about to read is the only one we’ve settled on at this point). But be sure to stay tuned to Android and Me for further weekly column announcements.

The Android and Me staff would like to introduce to you our newest weekly column, “Anthony Domanico’s Complaint Department.” Let’s face it:  No matter how much we love Android, there are some things out there that really drive us nuts. After all, it can’t be all good, right? Each week I’ll write about something that really bothers me, or we’ll scour Twitter and Facebook comments for a topic. Our staff will investigate things that are bugging the Android community and provide a more in-depth post explaining the issue and what we’d like done about it (if we can think of any good solutions, that is).

Without further ado, the first (of many) in the Anthony Domanico’s Complaint Department series:

You know what really grinds my gears this week? Fragmentation. And no, I’m not talking about operating system fragmentation, I’m talking about the potentially worse kind. There has been an increasingly troubling trend of late, catching the eye of many in the Android community. Increasingly awesome and must-have applications are becoming handset specific, leaving users who don’t happen to own the exact right piece of hardware out in the cold. At least OS-specific fragmentation made a bit of sense; some software just depended on advancements that were only allowed by the most recent Android operating system. Froyo (Android 2.2) offered significant performance improvements and features that weren’t found in Eclair (2.1), which in turn had significant performance improvements and features that weren’t found in Donut (1.6), and so on. What I really don’t understand is that I can have two nearly identical phones sitting next to each other, running the same version of Android, and one of them can’t run an application because of device or chipset fragmentation.


Before we walk down the Netflix/Hulu path, I must fully disclose that the main reason Netflix/Hulu is available only on certain devices is due to DRM issues that Netflix must account for before they allow a device access to their instant streaming capability. This is a known (and indeed necessary) evil, and one that shouldn’t really affect our thinking about this type of fragmentation.

That being said, try telling that to people who own devices that don’t happen to currently be on the supported devices list. Even worse, one thing we can be sure of is not all devices will ever end up supporting Netflix and/or Hulu, even some of the higher end devices just hitting/about to hit store shelves. Will the upcoming Droid Bionic ever see support for these services? How about the Galaxy S2? Or, gasp, the Nexus 3/Prime/Unicorn phone that is supposed to be the flagship device for the impending fall of the OS-fragmentation empire?

The announcement of Netflix HD for Texas Instruments OMAP4 processors adds another level of complexity to the puzzle, as who knows whether or not viewing Netflix in High Definition will come to non-TI chipsets, or how long it will take.

The very fact that the fate of these (arguably) essential services is unknown, that the inclusion of these types of applications can make or break the purchasing decision for a vast number of consumers, makes a strong case for the potential issues with this new type of fragmentation.

Chipset-specific applications

Chipset-specific applications is the area that really tends to leave a bad taste in the Android user’s mouth. Netflix once fell into this category when it announced it would be available exclusively on devices featuring Qualcomm’s snapdragon processor. The inclusion on the Samsung Nexus S (Hummingbird), as well as the announcement that NVIDIA is working with Netflix to bring this service to Tegra devices, quickly remedied this problem.

Where individuals seem to be the most frustrated with chipset-specific application fragmentation has been with games that have worn the “Tegra-only” tag. There have been many games released recently that play extremely well on the Motorola Xoom, G2x or other Tegra-toting devices, but owners of HTC’s Sensation/EVO 3D or the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S2 series won’t be able to enjoy them, even though their devices can certainly handle the extra graphical strain these games require. In fact, some of them have been hacked to run on the now year-old HTC Nexus One.

We reached out to NVIDIA for comment as to whether or not they are forcing developers to enter into exclusive relationships, and received this official comment.

It's completely up to the developer what platforms they release games on. They tend to focus on Tegra due to the graphics capability and familiar graphics architecture, which makes it easier to bring console-quality games to mobile. Developers also tend to focus on a single platform to ease debug and support requirements.Official StatementNVIDIA

Though it appears NVIDIA is not currently targeting exclusive deals with developers, is this tactic one that NVIDIA or other chipset makers will revert to as a means of convincing handset manufacturers to use their products in future devices?

If things continue in this direction, I believe it paints a very dark future for Android. Though we can all probably think of a million negative things to say about iOS, the fact is releasing only one iPhone every year prevents this problem from occurring. And since Microsoft and RIM have a pretty solid death grip over Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry OS, this problem seems to be Android-specific. At least for the foreseeable future.


Assuming this is even remotely as large a problem as I have made it out to be, what can be done about device/chipset fragmentation? Should we reach out to the likes of NVIDIA and Qualcomm and TI to let them know that we don’t approve of the direction they’re headed in this respect? Should Google step in and put the kibosh on it?

Unfortunately, unless Google has something up their sleeves when it comes to Ice Cream Sandwich, I don’t see a solution to this issue presenting itself anytime soon.


With these weekly columns, we want to be more interactive with our readers. As such, we always want to hear from you and will do what we can to carry on the conversation in the comments.  This is also an opportunity for you to tell us what bugs you about Android. We may explore your gripes for future stories. To get this process started, I’ll pose a couple questions for you to wrestle with.

  • Have you experienced chipset fragmentation? How/in what ways?
  • Is chipset-fragmentation as big of an issue as I’m making it out to be?
  • What potential solutions do you see for chipset fragmentation?
  • Does having an application such as Netflix, Hulu or Galaxy on Fire 2 influence which Android smartphone or tablet you’re going to purchase next?
  • What grinds your gears about Android?

Sound off on these (and more) questions in the comments.  See you next week.

Anthony loves all things technology, from hardware to apps and games. You can connect with him via Google+ or Twitter by clicking one of the fancy doo-dads above.

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  • Taknarosh

    Have you ever developed an application?
    All Android processors use ARM specifications, meaning the instruction sets are identical across all platforms.

    The only way they vary is kernel level modifications by phone manufacturers or some obscure additional instruction sets included by hardware manufacturers.

    I don’t buy for one second that developers can program for one set of hardware but not another (barring processing power limitation).

    If 2 people at Tweetdeck can port their application to cover 99.99% of all Android users I can’t see why other devs can’t do the same.

  • http://limitlessdroid.com Shane

    I agree completely. The mainstream consumer doesn’t truly care about what processor their phone is running, or for the most part what version of Android either. They want those cool apps that everyone talks about. When they can’t play those games, then problems occur.

    It should be added that it isn’t just chipsets that are causing this problem, but also app stores and the developers. Devs can now hide apps from specific phones, and while this is to make sure that the app works correctly on the phones they do want, it still is a pain. The Amazon Appstore has certain apps that you can see, but when you try to download them the store says that your phone is incompatible. Frustrating to say the least.

    Saying all that, I do believe that this issue is being quietly resolved. We have begun to talk about how tired we are of the exact same tablets being shipped with different names, but all this means is there is starting to be a standard guidlines for releases. While I can’t see into the future, I believe that in a little over a year we should have a regular pattern of Android devices and their overall specs. Google needs to step in more than they have been for this to happen, but if rumors are true, that is what Ice Cream Sandwich is signifying to them.

  • http://Website Tom Zucker-Scharff

    I really love my HTC Incredible from Verizon. But I do have 2 specific problems with it just the same.

    1. Although HTC and Verizon advertise this phone as having 8gb internal, apparently 6gb are reserved space which I can’t use unless I root the phone. The space is reserved for the OS and applications that are bundled with the phone (although I am getting errors that will not let me open my text messages because there is not enough space – even though there is still over 6gb available on the phone).

    2. I just found out that neither HTC nor Verizon intend to upgrade my operating system to 2.3 because they said my phone was an older model now that the incredible 2 is out. I’m still under contract with verizon, yet they’re not supporting my phone?! This particularly stinks, especially since I was really looking forward to those battery upgrades.

    • http://Website Wally

      Rooting your incredible takes 5-10 minutes now. I’ve been running 2.3 for months. Battery life is sweet. I’m taking about the original incredible, too. Come to the light side!

      • elijahblake

        Yeah, i’ve rooted/flashed all my androids as well, but the thing is Many people don’t know how and simply don’t want to. And also they shouldn’t have to. They should receive timely upgrades for atleast the legnth of their contract..

        • http://Website Someone

          The same people who don’t know about or don’t know how to use custom firmware (not rooting, that’s two different thing) are the same people who don’t know there is newer versions out.

    • http://Website Seth

      @Tom as another Inc owner I feel the need to tell you to root your phone. It’s easy and well worth doing. Plus, you can always go back to stock. The 8GB internal memory isn’t your problem because that’s primarily used for media storage (pics, music, etc). The problem is the system/data/data directory which is in a different kind of memory space. It’s too small on the Inc and there’s very little you can do about it without root. You can delete data from apps which are using too much data space but that’s only a temporary fix with major drawbacks.

      You can check out how much data each app uses in the app settings and hit the “Clear data” button. Careful though, because you will wipe out all of the passwords and settings for the app you wipe. Ironically HTC apps and Google apps are big offenders there.
      There’s at least one app on the market that was made to specifically address that problem. It’s called NotEnoughSpace http://goo.gl/ZcXYy But you need root to use it.

      Once you have root you can also use ROM Manager to easily move to ROMs which use Android 2.3.4 (the most recent version of the OS). I’d recommend CyanogenMOD to start since it’s popular and well supported. It includes some security updates and a lot of nice extras like being able to change your clock speed to give you more battery life and built-in free wifi hotspot.

      There are lots of excellent guides on rooting, but make sure you back up everything important 1st. Good luck.

    • http://Website Tony

      You sure can access the internal storage without root.. its 8GB of Flash memory and 1.8GB or so is dedicated storage for the system/apps. Go do yourself a favor and buy a 16 or 32GB MicroSD card.

      As for the 2.3 upgrade, You’re honestly better off with the amount of bloat Verizon puts on their devices, including HTC Sense.. So unless rooting and flashing different software is something you’d be comfortable with. Android 2.2 is your best bet. The differences between 2.2 and 2.3 are minimal at best for most average users, so much so that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t go to the sys/info screen to check.

  • http://Website Mil

    The reason why Apple and RIM are not affected by this is because they have complete control over the hardware AND OS. Microsoft is not quite the same because they do not have the same level of control over the WP7 hardware. Blackberry OS and WP7 have pretty insignificant market share which is only getting worse.

    However, I do agree that Google need to strongly encourage manufacturers/developers etc to not contribute to fragmentation as this will only ruin their chance at a big long term gain for the sake of a small short term gain.

  • http://Website Aaron Flexer

    Perfect example, the Google+ app isn’t approved for my Thunderbolt.

    • http://Website Seth

      Really? My wife has it on hers. You can grab it on xda if you can’t get it from the market. http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1148305

    • http://jim.nuttz.org Jim Nutt

      Google+ works just fine on the Thunderbolt… oh wait, I’m rooted and running CM7. Never mind.

      The really annoying thing about the fragmentation is that most of it is completely artificial. Netflix runs just fine on the Thunderbolt, as does Skype with video and GTalk with video. And for that matter, Hulu. The restrictions are entirely arbitrary and artificial.

  • http://www.typhonrt.org/ Mike Leahy

    >Though it appears NVIDIA is not currently targeting exclusive deals with developers

    I do believe this is the case though not necessarily exclusivity indefinitely. SoC makers won’t be the only ones to pull this leverage as ODMs will do this too; Minecraft for Android, etc. It’s going to get worse before it gets better (said this last time when app frag came up).

    It is also true what NVidia claimed that for developers coming over to Android it can be easier to release for a limited set of devices for debugging and quality purposes.

    >If 2 people at Tweetdeck can port their application to cover 99.99% of all Android users I can’t see why other devs can’t do the same.

    I’m afraid Tweetdeck (though I haven’t used it) is likely a basic app insofar that it is likely using the standard Android GUI API which works well across across OS and device differentiation. IE nothing fancy.

    High performance games however may require a dual core SoC w/ good GPU, but the Tegra only stuff likely has more to do with agreements with NVidia. Do recall that an exclusivity agreement may provide a developer up front income to finish a game or get it out at all, so it’s sometimes a necessity I suppose.

    I am developing all my tech to run Android 1.5+ or at least work back that far for OpenGL 1.x if so desired (that is kind moot now though with 2.x+ being the norm). It is possible to have a game run across the ecosystem, but still difficult until proper middleware appears that eases the difficulties of targeting a wide range of OS and device combinations.

  • http://Website Seth

    It’s perfectly reasonable that high-end hardware running an up to date OS will be able to do things that old/cheap/dated hardware can’t. Google needs to find a way to let consumers know that saving $200 by getting a free phone with a 2 year contract isn’t worth it if they want to have the best experience. The idiots in the retail stores have no reason to explain this to people, presuming they are even aware of it themselves.

    That being said, Netflix runs fine on an OG Droid, but not on a Thunderbolt? That kinda shoots the DRM argument to pieces. It sounds to me like LG made a deal to have the only LTE Netflix phone for a certain time period. (LG clearly needs to have at least one reason to buy their Revolution over the Charge and the Thunderbolt.)

    The actual amount of apps that are hardware specific are small, and the developers are likely paid by the hardware manufacturer. Limiting your potential market is a strategy that just screams failure so most independent devs will do their best to make their apps work for everyone.

  • http://Website Dan H

    First off, Anthony, like the idea for the column! Lots to complain about!

    I honestly think that despite what I hate about iOS I certainly respect the fact they don’t seem to have issues and are more standardized and I hate always having to keep quiet about issues with my phone from my iOS buddies.

    I would say that if Google could standardize at least on their name-brand phone and make it a bit more secure and easy to use it could take off and be one of the first phones to be addressed by developers and used by ‘low tech’ users that seems to be the iOS market.

    Google needs to push their brand name much more than it has been in the H/W realm (with Google TV also!!).

    On other H/W devices I think we will have to depend on ‘distributions’ like CM7 to get what we want– similar to the way there are many Linux dists that people like. On those phones the best G can do is more enforcement of standards with Ice Cream Sandwich. They need to remove the device-specificity in the market again as this really does lead to more fragmentation even if it means longer for apps to become available generally.

    I also think that there needs to be some amount of google review of apps in their market. Perhaps they can have reviewed and unreviewed sections– so that a user can determine easily which apps may be more problematic.


  • http://Website Tito!

    Thank you! Finally an article on the matter .
    I felt the crunch back when I want Gameloft games for my SK4G, until I found a way around it .
    So I’m settled. Now (:
    & all the other apps, as of late aren’t exactly in demand from my part .
    So ha! Bad for them developers, & companies from their part.
    But the app fragmentation is major problem. To Android entirely (:
    It’s sad.

  • http://lindylabs.com Edward Kim

    I think a lot of the problem may stem from the fact that there are so many different types of Android devices (screen size, processors, os versions, sensors, etc) that it becomes difficult for developers to test on every single one of them. This is especially true for smaller developers, who don’t necessarily have the resources to spend $600 on every new Android device that comes out. I think companies that offer testing-as-a-service solutions for Android (like DeviceAnywhere and HandsetCloud) will be important in allowing developers to make sure their apps work on as many devices as possible.

    • SimplyApplied

      This is exactly what I was coming to say. We deal with a lot of issues related to different hardware, screen sizes, different versions of the OS, various manufacturer customizations, etc. As a small developer, we end up using a lot of our resources just handling issues and de-bugging device specific issues instead of spending our time and money on improving our apps. This costs us money both in time spent to fix issues, as well as not having as much polish on our apps, which makes people less likely to want to pay for apps.

      This is the case for a lot of developers. Remember that a lot of the top development houses were (and continue to be) completely focused on iOS. This left a wide open space for smaller developers to fill. However, in comparing apps on Android with similar apps on the iPhone, the Android apps often feel like beta versions or not as visually appealing. This is because of the unique complications for developing for Android vs. iOS.

      Android developers spend ALOT more time debugging and handling a variety of issues that iOS developers don’t have to. iOS devs can focus more time on improving the UI, creating better graphics and animations which make apps feel more polished. Android devs spend more time debugging hardware/manufacturer/OS specific issues and therefore have much less time to focus on the graphics/animations/etc. There are a multitude of other factors at play, but fragmentation is certainly one important aspect.

      I certainly don’t advocate going the Apple route – we love the diversity and creativity that Android allows, but its definitely an issue that Google needs to be looking at on some level.

  • http://maxtechnewz.blogspot.com max

    i think that the hardware is the only reason that android is so fragmented

  • Damien

    Frankly I don’t think it’s a great solution for the Android community to simply say “Root your device” whenever a user experiences a problem with their phone that shouldn’t be an issue (for example, old software or the inability to run Android apps on a 9 month old phone). That simply turns off potential new users. It can turn users into people who buy Android because they don’t have any other option instead of users who are die-hard fans.

    The Rooting Community is probably smaller than we all think compared to the Android community as a whole. And if the majority of the community isn’t happy, it’s all too easy to go someplace else.