Android Fragmentation: The threat or concern that a proliferation of diverging variants of the Android platform will result in the inability of some devices to properly run apps written with the Android SDK. With a large number of custom versions of the Android platform emerging, the concern is that interoperability will be weakened as a result of the potential for applications built specifically for one variant or device not being able to work with others.
Google has created an Android compatibility program to help quell fears of Android fragmentation and has also deemed the idea of Android fragmentation a “bogeyman” in a recent blog, but concerns about device-specific apps leading to interoperability issues persist nonetheless. (Source: Webopedia)
When there is an official Webopedia definition for a term like “Android Fragmentation”, you know you have a real problem on hand. From day one, Google has taken an anti-iPhone approach of making Android a hardware independent platform which can be adopted and customized by handset manufacturers to create hardware form factors most appealing to their customer base. While marshaling the combined strength of global handset manufacturers was a sound strategy and has helped establish Android as a serious smartphone platform, the lack of a stable platform and one that is continually a moving target has smashed the Android eco-system into tiny little bits, and app developers, as reported in this Edge-Online article, are feeling the frustration of trying to glue together the pieces. That said, Android is still a viable platform that has garnered hundreds of millions of users world-wide and is likely to continue it meteoric trajectory. However, unbeknownst to many western App developers, this splintering of the Android eco-system has had an especially profound and unexpected result in China, effectively making the Android app download market an uncontrolled and unmanaged environment that ends up causing Android users hassles, frustrations and even technical and security issues.
A recent article from M.I.C Gadget notes that there are a staggering 70 Android App Stores in China, serving an install base of over 40 million+ Android devices, and the number of devices is projected to more than double in 2012. Any attempt to “rank” the App Stores in China is currently an exercise in futility as the ebbs and flows of their user base and download numbers fluctuate wildly on a monthly basis, with no standardized mechanism to validate installed base and download numbers claimed by each of these App stores. Furthermore, in their quest to become the “Top App Store”, many of have adopted a policy of lax controls and validations to encourage app postings and increase their library of apps in order to attract more users. This has resulted in a flurry of pirated content being uploaded to these App stores, but also the potential for malicious malware to run rampant, embedded inside of what may appear to the consumer to be legitimate apps from reputable developers as noted by this article from Netqin.
The three major mobile operators in China (China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom) have also launched their own branded App stores in China but as yet, none of these have chalked up an installed base of apps or users that can claim to be worthy competitors to the other “independent App stores”. As a result, the market is screaming for a secure and managed place to download apps like Amazon’s App store in the US so that app developers can achieve higher monetization. Unfortunately Amazon and other credible players have been conspicuously absent from the China market.