Two magical words that can boil the blood of any hardcore Android enthusiast. Words that paint the picture of an endlessly branching family tree of different phones with different software interfaces and different features, all falling under the same blanket term, “Android.” Fragmentation has long been a criticism of the Android platform, raising concerns of slow updates and confusion amongst consumers, but maybe it’s time for Apple users to finally start facing the same troubles.
It feels like every year that we write this headline. Once the new iPhones are announced, everyone rushes to call Apple’s new selection fragmented, and it’s an increasingly common claim thanks to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, creating two entirely separate SKUs before even factoring in different storage size and color options. But it’s never real fragmentation. Instead of one phone a year, there are now two phones, but both still receive the same updates to iOS, at the same time as every other still-supported iOS device. If you’d rather save some money and get the iPhone 5s instead, it’s still available most places and, again, will receive the same updates at the same time as every other device. This isn’t fragmentation … but the upcoming lineup is.
Fragmentation describes more than just software. It’s true that iOS will likely never be as fragmented as Android, thanks to the walled garden nature of the platform, but this year’s new devices bear some interesting questions in mind. Take, for example, the new rosegold finish, which Apple was very content to announce. It’s a nice new color, and it’ll breathe a bit of new life into the tired gray/silver/gold selection customers currently face. But while it’s available on the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and understandably won’t be retrofitted to the previous generations of devices, the iPad Pro and iPad mini 4 introduced at the same event won’t offer rosegold. Even stranger, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are no longer offered in champagne directly through Apple. You’ll likely still be able to find the color at carrier outlets for a little while longer, but once the current inventory sells out, it’s likely we’ll never see another batch of gold iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses.
Color options don’t affect user experience, though. What’s more important is the disconnect in device specifications — particularly, the storage options and the tradeoffs that now come with them. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will ship in the same 16/64/128 GB configurations as before, but with the new Live Photos and the ability to shoot 4K video, storage will run out significantly quicker than before; it’s been reported that Live Photos take up two to four times as much space as a standard photo, further diminishing the utility of a 16 GB phone. These are, of course, simply software settings that can (presumably) be disabled, but it’s a new issue consumers will have to be made of aware of before purchasing, and a previous non-issue. There’s also the matter of the iPad Pro, which will only be available in 32 GB and 128 GB variants (sorry, 64 GB users). If you aren’t willing to make the $150 jump to up the storage capacity, you certainly won’t be happy about the additional $130 cost for an LTE configuration — which, by the way, can only be added to the 128 GB model. It’s all or nothing here, and I have to wonder how fewer LTE iPad Airs and minis would have sold if the same philosophy had applied then.
There are smaller concerns, like only the Plus-model iPhones packing OIS (though it’s only used for still photos, not video), or the iPhone 5c being the only model since the release of Touch ID to not include it (albeit forgivable, given its aim for lower cost), but it’s clear either way that Apple’s mobile lineup isn’t quite as simple as it once was. This doesn’t mean the company is losing its touch; quite the opposite, actually — the iPhone 6 is by far Apple’s best-selling smartphone ever, and the 6s should only continue on in that traction. It’s just frustrating to potentially not be able to get the device configuration you want for seemingly no reason.
Have you been burned by Apple’s growing fragmentation? Or is the company’s selection still as plain and simple as ever? Are you always able to get exactly the device you want, colors, storage capacity, and all?