A few weeks ago there was a brouhaha over perceived fragmentation in the Android platform space, spurred by comments Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, made during Apple’s most recent earnings call.
“We think Android is very, very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day. And as you know, Apple strives for the integrated models so that the user isn't forced to be the systems' integrator. We see tremendous value in having Apple rather than our users be the systems' integrator. We think this is a huge strength of our approach compared to Google's, when selling to users who want their devices to just work; we believe integrated will trump fragmented every time.” (source mornigstar.com transcript - link)
The reality is this fragmentation is caused by multiple application development vendors pushing the technology envelope. Apple did in fact beat EVERYONE to beautiful well-designed user experience on a mobile platform. In a matter of a few years though Apple's competitors have pretty much caught up. I recently picked up an HTC Incredible running on Verizon Wireless, and I love it. First and foremost it makes calls making it an actual phone. Secondly the Android user experience is great. Yes there are carrier-specific apps “polluting” the experience, but I had a clean slate to work with after a few minutes of customization of the user interface. I was able to download and install most of the popular mobile applications one would expect from a mobile marketplace. Now that Android has a strong foothold in the market, you’ll start to see iPhone/Android as priority 1 for app developers more and more.
The main argument though, is that the complex fragmentation in Android may scare developers away from the platform. That is something both Apple and Microsoft with Windows Phone 7 try to limit by setting hardware device specs for every piece of hardware. HTC, Motorola, and Samsung though are smarter than people give them credit for re: Android similarity in the top phones.
If you want to develop custom mobile applications for Android there is really only one spec to follow:
1GHZ processor, 4” screen, 800x480
Below is a table of the Top Android Phones today (source blogs.techrepublic.com – link)
|HTC EVO 4G||1GHZ Snapdragon||4.3||800x480|
|Google Nexus One||1GHZ Snapdragon||3.7||800x480|
|Samsung Vibrant||1GHZ Hummingbird||4||800x480|
|HTC Incredible||1GHZ Snapdragon||3.7||800x480|
|Motorola Droid X||1GHZ TI||4.3||854x480|
|Samsung Epic 4G||1GHZ ARM||4||800x480|
|Motorola Droid 2||1GHZ||3.7||854x480|
|Samsung Captivate||1GHZ ARM||4||800x480|
That will give you the top Android phones in the market. Everyone else will just have to make do with the experience on their other phones. All of these run Android 2.X so unless you are doing something that absolutely requires the latest 2.2 Froyo then you should be in good shape.
In reality if anyone has fragmentation on their devices it may actually be Apple. With the new Retina Display there is an extreme difference in display resolution:
|Apple iPhone 4||1GHZ A4||3.5||960x640|
|Apple iPhone 3GS||833 MHz ARM||3.5||480x320|
Apple says that design for the 3GS scales up, but it takes a lot of work to target both the iPhone 4 and 3GS. Here is a good article on the fragmentation (Designing for iPhone 4’s Retina Display)
If you want to innovate quickly, you have to let technology companies push the hardware specs and use the OS to marshal along the innovation. It looks as though Android is doing just fine in that regard. It will be interesting to see how Windows Phone handles the evolution of their devices, and how quick they are to support multiple Chassis revs as time goes on.