Android Fragmentation

Google announced on its Android Developers Blog that they are now providing a device dashboard showing the distribution of the Android version accessing the Android Market (later on also including hardware characteristics of devices).

As a developer, I often wonder which Android platforms my applications should support,especially as the number of Android-powered devices grows. Should my application only focus on the latest version of the platform or should it support older ones as well?

To help with this kind of decision, I am excited to announce the new device dashboard. It provides information about deployed Android-powered devices that is helpful to developers as they build and update their apps. The dashboard provides the relative distribution of Android platform versions on devices running Android Market.

In summary, Android 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0.1 are the 3 versions of the platform that are deployed in volume. Our goal is to provide you with the tools and information to make it easy for you to target specific versions of the platform or all the versions that are deployed in volume.

We plan to update the dashboard regularly to reflect deployment of new Android platforms. We also plan to expand the dashboard to include other information like devices per screen size and so on.

Don’t get me wrong: the data is very interesting. However, it strongly reminds me on the situation on Windows, where still about 30% of the users use Windows XP. Having such a big fragmentation of OS versions really forces you to either make big compromises and build your application only using the features of the lowest OS version or to make your application adapt to the OS version it is running on. The later one adds a lot of trouble in development efforts, testing and bug fixing.

Still, it will be interesting to see how the fragmentation of Android devices evolve and how this will influence the attraction of developers providing Apps for the Android OS. Of course, having developers focusing only on certain Android OS versions and/or hardware characteristics could also make the hardware vendors streamline their hardware specs and OS versions. Selling Android devices which show only very few apps on the Android Market might not sell so well after all.