My thoughts on Android fragmentation - It is not a bad thing

Tue, Jul 30, 2013

OpenSignal released the July 2013 edition 1 of their State of Android report. Among many things like the dominance of Samsung, HTC’s faltering performance and Motorola’s struggle, it points out that the Android device landscape is more fragmented than ever. Out of 682000 devices surveyed for the report, 11868 distinct devices were seen. This has met with cries of anguish from Developers and the usual suspects 2.

There is a very important point in the OpenSignal report that gets ignored or does not get as much focus as it deserves. To quote:

For consumers, extreme fragmentation means that they can get exactly the phone they want – big or small, cheap or expensive, with any number of different feature combinations.

A lot of people, especially from the Valley and in love with Apple’s excellent devices point this out as evidence of Android’s cheapness. I think Android fragmentation is not a bad thing. I will try to make this point below.

Fragmentation means Android provides à la carte smartness.

Apple provides well-engineered, extremely well-designed our-way-or-high-way devices. These are loved by a lot of people and evidently work very well for them. But fragmentation means that Android is able to be a vehicle for devices with à la carte smartness. Want a big screen? Or you feel you want a small screen to fit your hand? There is an Android device for you. Want a really good camera? Or you don’t care about taking photos? There is an Android device for both cases. Does not want WiFi support on your device because you live in a part of the of the world where you would pretty much never encounter a WiFi hot-spot? Or you always have a hot-spot near you? No problem. There are Android devices that fit either use cases. Are you a programmer in the valley and can afford pretty much any smart device you want? Or you are a daily wage laborer in rural India? No problem. There are Android devices for both of you.

Fragmentation allows Android to put smart devices in more hands.

Fragmentation caused by manufacturers from Asia who make devices tailored for the budgets of the emerging markets they serve has pushed smart device adoption forward. In a market like India, local manufacturers like Karbonn and Micromax provide competition for Samsung. According to a recent study 3, Micromax and Karbonn occupy the 2nd and 3rd spot in the smart device market with 19.3% and 8.6%.

Seriously, smart devices are not about the developers.

Developers seem to have a negative view towards the fragmentation on the Android platform. This is understandable because they have to spend money and effort to support a large number of devices and screen sizes. In my opinion Developers are wrong to think that smart devices are about them. It is about the users. The average smart device user in my village back home in India does not care about your cool new app that delivers commodity X to the doorsteps or lets you ask for a black taxi. He cares about being able to browse, update Facebook and make Skype calls. And that is okay because Facebook, Microsoft and Google have the Engineering strength and money to build apps that cater to the whole spectrum of Android devices. Of course, you will have trouble if you want to do with your app and will choose instead to not support those devices at the low end of the spectrum. That is okay. These smart device owners won’t miss you, because they don’t need your app.