Fragmentation has long been a thorn in Android’s side. Turnaround times on updates are, well … slow. But that’s the name of the open source game.
A number of different companies have their hand in the Android pot, whereas only two or three have a say in iOS or Windows Phone. So updates get pushed much more slowly to the users, yet Google continually rolls out new firmware faster than just about any other company.
For iOS, we saw iOS 6 roughly one year ago and iOS 7 will go live next week for the public. And Windows Phone 8 went live around 11 months ago. Android, on the other hand, saw three version updates between July 2012 and July 2103: 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3. And just last week, not even two months after Android 4.3 was announced, 4.4 was officially announced and teased by Google.
We don’t know what 4.4 will entail, but considering it’s bearing a different codename, we can assume it, too, will pack a hefty change log.
Each month, Google releases the latest Android distribution numbers to the public, as a way of letting everyone know it’s actively working to eradicate the (overblown) fragmentation issues. And whatever Google is doing, it’s working.
Fragmentation once was a fairly significant issue. Android was undergoing massive changes at least once per year, yet manufacturers were entirely too lax about getting updates out to existing users – or even upcoming hardware, for that matter. And wireless providers were entirely too strict with their rigorous testing of each update, major or minor.
Last September, Google released its distribution numbers for Android. The largest piece of the pie went to the various versions of Gingerbread, with 57.5 percent of all devices. Ice Cream Sandwich held a hefty 20.9 total percent, Froyo held 14 percent, and Eclair had 3.7 percent. The latest version, two months after its release, only mustered 1.2 percent, beating only the first two public versions of Android, Cupcake and Donut, with 0.2 and 0.4 percent, respectively.
In the past year, Android has turned a complete 180.
Jelly Bean accounts for the brunt of all Android devices with 45.1 percent. Second is Gingerbread, powering 30.7 percent of devices. Ice Cream Sandwich is next with 21.7 percent, followed by Froyo and Honeycomb with 2.4 and 0.1 percent, respectively. Eclair, Donut, and Cupcake did not appear on the September distribution chart because they do not support Google Play, but Google notes those three versions, collectively, only accounted for about 1 percent of the total in August.
Does fragmentation still exist on Android? You bet. But in the last year, Google has done some great behind the scenes stuff to make fragmentation a non-issue. It created the PDK, a way for partner manufacturers to get their hands on newer Android firmware before the official source code is finalized and publicized. That means manufacturers can begin working on the latest software before it’s officially available, effectively closing a several-month gap between AOSP going live and OEMs’ customized firmware being pushed for carrier approval (or straight to your device outside the US).
However, arguably the most important and impressive thing Google has done is bring many of its services out of the official firmware and into Google Play. At Google I/O this year, we saw Google effectively and drastically update Android without announcing a new version of … Android. Some of the best services and apps were updated with important new features, but none of it required a new firmware build.
Yes, there’s still a cause for new versions of Android. There always will be. But the tiny, yet still very important things – such as Google Now, Google Play Services, etc. – can be updated independently of Android and don’t require a painstakingly long wait for end users.
Regardless, the Android team may have taken two huge steps forward and one or two back. Last week, when Google’s Sundar Pichai teased that the new version of Android will be called KitKat, one interesting thing happened. The online world erupted. One, because Google did something we had joked about for ages – using brands instead generic desert names for its version code names.
There’s nothing wrong with it, though. I have no qualms with KitKat over, say, Key Lime Pie. It’s certain easier to type. And, theoretically, it’s a smart move for both Google and KitKat – a cross-promotion that will mutually benefit both parties. It was a smart move. But there may just be a caveat from said move.
KitKat is an internationally recognized brand. It’s a delicious snack that people around the world love. And it just may get non-techies to realize their Android smartphone isn’t running the latest software version, which shares a name with their favorite break snack.
I’m sure people have heard things like Gingerbread, Froyo, Ice Cream Sandwich, Honeycomb, and Jelly Bean thrown around when people are talking about Android versions. When working in wireless retail, I had people constantly ask about Gingerbread. But most of the time, they had no idea what it actually meant.
KitKat is a brand, not some generic snack food. People immediately know the jingle when it’s played and can visually distinguish it from a million other snacks. And whether or not they know the useful and compelling feature set that comes along with the software version of KitKat won’t matter. They will likely want their phone to be running KitKit regardless.
And this could be an unjustified issue that brings the fragmentation talk back into the limelight.
Don’t believe me? Search “#KitKat” on Google+. There are dozens of new posts of people taking a picture of a KitKat bar lying on their Android phone or tablet added every hour. Even one week later, they’re still littering my feed. Don’t you think the general populace will be enticed by something that was meant to bring more awareness to Android?
The unfortunate part is that most won’t understand why their phone hasn’t been updated, and they’ll just blame Google. They will also become upset with their current phone when they probably never would have cared if it were running 4.2 or 4.3, if 4.4 were instead called Jelly Bean or Key Lime Pie.
And people say branding isn’t important …