Wednesday, July 31, 2013

[id-android] WTI : Tackling the fragmentation myth

Tackling the fragmentation myth

Have you heard the latest news? Have you seen the headlines? It's worse than we thought. Android fragmentation is at an all-time high. There are so many devices, running so many different versions of Android, Google has ruined Android by not throwing a choke chain on manufacturers and yelling "HEEL BOY!" every time they consider making more than one phone a year. Or at least that's what some people want you to think.

According to the latest numbers from Open Signal, Android is a complete mess. There are some interesting facts about the 682,000 phones surveyed, like how dominant Samsung is and how the Nexus 4 is one of the top ten most popular Android devices in use. But their charts can be misleading, and the impressions people are getting from them are wrong.

If you look at the charts on Open Signal's site and read the comments on the various reporting on them, you'll notice two common misconceptions being thrown around. One, all these devices with different screen sizes and operating systems make it much harder for developers to make apps, and two, not being on the latest version of Android is terrible and OMG fragmentation.

You can argue whether or not those things are true or whether or not they're bad, but the simple fact of the matter is that Google developed an adaptive operating system and development environment that tackles these problems, and they are getting better all the time.

As an Android app developer, you already know not to develop for any number of screen sizes. You instead use the tools Google gives you to make an app that scales and adapts to any screen size. As an Android app user, you may or may not have already noticed this. Some apps scale really well and play nice with all kinds of devices, while others aren't quite there yet.

Either way, it doesn't matter what version of Android you are on or what screen size you're using, if apps are developed right it shouldn't matter. Don't place the blame on Google here; they're not the problem. It's the same problem that exists right now on iOS with apps still using non-iPhone 5 screen resolutions, creating hideous black bars in apps, and the same problem that's going to be worse when iOS completely changes its look and developers are scrambling to make apps that fit in. They're all developer's problems. Not Google's problems. Not Apple's. Developer's. Again, Google provides the necessary tools to make any app look good on any display. And it's not that hard to do. It's up to developers to utilize these tools.

As time goes on, scalable, adaptive apps are going to keep getting better and better. Google suggests developing for three different screen sizes — phone, mid-size tablet and large tablet — and apps will adapt in-between. They may not be the ideal, pixel-for-pixel developer porn playground some people think an operating system needs, but they work. And they work well.

The other major problem Open Signal tries to places emphasis on is what operating system version and API level a device is using and how it's causing fragmentation. We've talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Google has solved this problem in the form of Google Play services. Google Play services is an app that is pushed to any Android device using 2.2 or higher and contains the latest Google services APIs. In other words, 98.5% of Android devices are running the newest APIs thanks to Google Play services.

Google put a lot of work into Google Play services this year, and it has made a huge impact. Google Play services is the reason why every Android device on 2.2 or higher is now running Hangouts instead of Google Talk. It's the reason why 98.5% of Android users have access to the latest Google services APIs, no matter what firmware they're running.

Google is adding more into Google Play services, just like they've added more apps into the Play store, separating them from the core OS. With these two things alone, Google has solved the fragmentation problem. Fragmentation, at least in the way that it's still portrayed to this day, doesn't exist. There's still a lot of intense debate to be had surrounding the topic, but the bottom line is that it's nowhere near the problem it's often played up to be.

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