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Opinion 112 Shares 8 comments

Is Google really trying to get to grips with Android fragmentation?

I don’t believe so. We are now at Android Nougat Version 7.1 and it has a second version number and some new features. But thanks to Google's particular way of doing things, the new Android release makes this platform fragmentation even worse than before.

Since the debut of Android 7.0 Nougat, one thing has been evident: Google wants to switch over to a new release cycle. Regular maintenance releases are supposed to supplement monthly security updates. We expected that the first maintenance release, Android 7.1, would be brought out at the Pixel smartphone premiere and we were right.

LG announced that the V20 would be the first smartphone to be shipped out with Android 7.0. This also happened. However, just a few days after the V20 market launch, Google announced that the Pixel would come with Android 7.1. So, how much is this supposed exclusivity worth? Not much, it would seem. But for Google, there is some consolation: at least their smartphone comes with the latest version of Nougat.

Nexus users were once privileged

Are Nexus users pleased with the new Android version? In a word, no. Google told that Android 7.1 will be available for existing Nexus smartphones - but initially only as the Developer Preview. As far as timing goes, Google said "by the end of the calendar quarter", which means sometime this year. In layman’s terms, the final software on the Pixel phones will be available for other smartphones as the so called “unstable” Developer Preview.

Google now wants to get rid of the Nexus brand. But the decision to initially offer Android 7.1 Nougat exclusively for Pixel smartphones damages the confidence that many Nexus buyers placed in Google. It was supposedly certain that Nexus smartphones would receive fast updates. The Pixel phones are intended to make both Samsung and Apple's lives harder, but they can’t just leave the Nexus legacy behind. Pixel buyers have no way to be sure that next year, they will still be on the latest Android path.

A look at the Nougat update casts a shadow of skepticism towards the future, because even this update is delayed – some might even say grossly so. It is understandable that Google didn’t release the updates within a few hours, however, the fact that Nexus 6 owners had to wait a good month until the OTA update was released is just a fiasco. But then again, it’s probably the last big version jump that the Nexus 6 is going to get.

Hans-Georg Kluge
Google messed up the Nougat update for Nexus users.
What do you think?
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Google has made the Android fragmentation problem even worse

It is surprising that Google obviously doesn’t want to get to grips with the problem of slow Android updates. Instead of making things easier, Google has made the situation even more complicated for itself.

It's no secret that Android updates take longer to distribute than Apple's. The multiple hardware partners need time to develop and test each one; this is understandable to a certain degree.

However, while development departments are now working on the Android 7.0 Nougat update, Android 7.1 is appearing on the horizon, doubtless with some interesting features. So what should be done? Wait for the source code of 7.1 and delay the update? Or push the 7.0 update now and hope that the customers are not already yearning for 7.1, which from the Pixel launch is now the current Android version? These are some questions that Google doesn’t appear to be concerned about any more.

The Android platform fragmentation doesn’t seem to be a serious issue for Google anymore.

For tech enthusiasts, Android updates are an important part of buying a Nexus or a Pixel . But maybe it isn’t really so important to have the latest version on your smartphone. And of course, software maintenance costs money; when the prices are calculated with such slim margins, it is often not a top priority. If Google wants its Pixel phones to compete with Apple then it must ensure that its smartphones have a long useful life because not all users want to buy a new $700 smartphone every two years.

Hans-Georg Kluge
Google must extend the life cycle of Pixel smartphones. Two years are not enough.
What do you think?
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Hopeful for Andromeda

In the run-up to the Pixel event, there was a lot of speculation that Andromeda would unite Chrome OS and Android. Does Andromeda even exist? Nobody knows right now. One of the biggest hopes many observers had was that Google would keep the operating system and updates under its own control and would thereby distribute updates to all Andromeda users. For the time being, this remains wishful thinking.

Do you still expect Google to get the Android update problem under control? Give us your thoughts in the comments!


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  • ljhaye 1 week ago Link to comment

    This isn't about fragementation but about Google developing a closed ecosystem akin to Apple's centered around Andromeda.

  • Google is basically about information, search and advertising...
    unlike Apple or Samsung hardware is NOT Google's primary business, its just a way of accessing Google search..

    Fragmentation is another word for choice..
    Progress requires change.. as Sundar Pichai clearly stated we HAVE changed from mobile first to Ai first..

    Alphabet have decided to do mainstream premium Android hardware and surprise surprise they have been priced to pay for mainstream prime time advertising..

    • Mark K 1 week ago Link to comment

      'Fragmentation is another word for choice..' - Actually its not. According to Google (see the irony) it means : "the process or state of breaking or being broken into fragments." - Which actually suits the article. You have to remember a big part of Android platform is the software that runs on them.

      Every SDK/API level brings with it new features, some backwards compatible, some not, and sometimes support libraries that make these features backwards compatible. Can you see that if you keep this trend up of continuously releasing new SDK's/updates that over time it becomes a nightmare for developers. They need to support 100's of devices over broader range of SDK/API levels. Something that used to work, breaks on later builds, with developers are having to mess around with code, adding 100's of lines, or refactoring, to it to deal with specific release versions - not good. Basically you'll lose cohesion, software will suffer as developers spend more time on just making the apps work as they should, rather than improving them by adding features - more patch updates, than feature updates!

      I agree Progress requires change.... however change too fast you'll leave everyone who develops for the platform struggling to deliver decent software! Remember it can take months to develop an app, depending on what it does and the complexity.

      • I agree with your point..
        maybe Google says it best..
        "be together not the same"
        probably the best way to deal with fragmentation, which is a by product of choice.. they sort of go hand in hand..
        can't have one without the other

  • I don't think that "fragmentation" is this big bugaboo everyone makes it out to be. For one thing, it is the engine that has enabled Android to overtake iOS.

    Evolution and advance Is a numbers game. iOS only has only player and one try at trying out new things. That is everything new that might be tried in iOS begins and ends with Apple. They only have limited resources to try out new things, and only one release at a time to try it in. With so few opportunities to try things out and get them into customers hands and so few things that can get into consumers hands, that's not a lot of trial and error to move the platform forward.

    On the other hand, Android has a number of players and a number of devices each player produces. That's a lot of opportunity to try out a lot of different things. A lot of opportunities to see what works and what doesn't. For that matter, that is exactly why there are iPhones have different screen sizes than only 3.5" and different tablet sizes than only 9.4" - because Android players were able to try a lot of different sizes and discovered what screen sizes people really want rather than what Apple decreed they should have. Apple never would have figured out people wanted larger phone screens than 3.5" or smaller tablets than 9.4". It took Android and the opportunities to leverage numbers to figure that out.

    But also I see a problem with Google trying to build walls of their own. One is the loss of the aforementioned numbers game advantage. But also the increased risk of their own Windows 8 fiasco. Let all the players take all the risk of experimentation and then absorb what really works into the mainline reference source. That's not to say that Google shouldn't try to assert guidance, but I think there is more to be gained by a "cooperative" effort than trying to impose a dictatorial approach to shut out the opportunity to leverage all that creativity.

  • Looking at the feature list for Nougat, most are already baked into my S7 Edge anyway. I'm not too fussed by slow updates, I knew what I was getting into.

    Nexus users would definitely be dissapointed though, the most quoted reason I see for buying a Nexus is speedy updates.

  • storm 1 week ago Link to comment

    Fragmentation is a problem only for the hardcore users. Most Android users couldn't tell you what version of the OS they're on and they don't care. They find updates a hassle.

    Certainly it can be argued that this is a danger to Android as it can be exploited and insecure for those users.

    On the other hand, we're comparing Android against Apple and the differences go all the way down to basic philosophy of computing between Android and Apple. So the comparison is flawed from the start. The principles of use, operation and ownership are very different and are the origin of what is named fragmentation.

    But, iOS is also fragmented then. There are devices running earlier versions of iOS still in use and operation that aren't supported by Apple either. But that's always ignored in the argument.

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