What is Fragmentation in Android & Why Should You Care?Andrei Klubnikin
Back in 2007, Google started working on the Android project in the hope of creating a unified operating system that would seamlessly run on any mobile device regardless of its type, size and manufacturer. Ten years on, the OS powers 82% of smartphones out there. Building Android apps is a tried-and-true method to raise brand awareness, engage customers and establish your company as a prominent mobile vendor. However, the process is associated with certain challenges including Android OS insecurities, users’ reluctance to spend money on apps and IAPs and…fragmentation. What’s fragmentation and how does it impact app development? Read on to find out!
What is mobile device fragmentation in Android?
The fragmentation term (which is as old as Android itself) may refer to many things: the slow pace of adoption of Android’s latest versions (over 50% of Android smartphones still run on Lollipop and KitKat), the enormous range of smartphones and screen sizes and different manufacturer skins. Android OS fragmentation is the primary reason why 900 million smartphones are exposed to security threats (to say nothing of poor mobile app UX).
Despite the fairly consistent app developer guidelines and Google’s continuous efforts to encourage device manufacturers to roll out the OS updates and security patches on a regular basis, fragmentation is still a thing. Guess why?
OS updates are costly and time-consuming. Check out this incredible infographic covering Android updates on HTC devices. You’ll discover that the process involves multiple stages including framework evaluation, chipset optimization, close cooperation with network carriers, testing, debugging and maintenance releases. Customer satisfaction aside, device manufacturers see few reasons to roll out upgrades and security patches (and thus extend your smartphone life).
It’s not that Google ignores the problem. Its Material Design libraries are meant to unify user interfaces’ look. The company also rolls out most security updates and features directly through Google Play Services. But the hardware problem has yet to be solved.
Does fragmentation impact Android app development?
From a developer’s point of view, Android fragmentation affects two levels – that is, hardware and mobile apps:
- Hardware. According to ZDNet, there are over 24 thousand types of Android devices manufactured by 1.3 thousand brands on the market. If you’re going to address an Android app development company to bring your idea to life, you need to conduct extensive research to determine what types of Android smartphones are preferred by your potential customers and test the app against those devices;
- Software. Besides multiple screen sizes, there’s the OS fragmentation. Some of the features you want to implement might not be supported by KitKat and Lollipop (which comprise 50% of the market). Also, there are potential security threats. With the growing adoption of mobile retail and e-commerce applications, more vendors integrate their apps with popular payment services including Stripe, PayPal and Android Pay. Although most of these apps do not share payment credentials with merchants, the percentage of Android smartphones infected with potentially harmful applications reached 0.71% last year (up from 0.5% in 2015).
More testing and bug fixing – doesn’t it mean higher app development costs? It surely does. R-Style Lab has completed over 50 Android app dev projects. Judging from our experience, the average Android app contains 77% more code lines than its iOS version. Although a large part of the code is generated automatically, building Android apps is 30% more expensive than iOS.
Nevertheless, the platform is now prioritized by 50% of mobile vendors. How come?
- Android is booming. Although the App Store still makes twice as much money as Google Play, the latter displays a steady growth in the emerging markets including India and Latin America. As a result, Google Play and third-party Android stores’ combined revenue will top $ 41 billion this year, dwarfing the App Store by $ 1 billion. By 2021, the gap will reach $ 18 billion;
- Evolution of mobile app market. A couple of years ago building mobile apps was a business of its own. The incredible success of simple yet engaging games, business tools and messaging apps inspired both professional and amateur vendors to develop apps by the hundred. Today the global mobile app industry is overcrowded. Through 2017 and beyond, less than 0.01% of the App Store/Google Play titles will be considered commercially successful. On the other hand, mobile applications have evolved into a powerful tool enabling companies to increase brand awareness and engage customers. Considering the fact that Google Play accepts inexpensive cross-platform apps (as well as applications primarily built for advertising), going Android is a win-win strategy for most companies;
- Android is getting better. Google has gone the extra mile to refine developer guidelines and eliminate security threats caused by the Android OS fragmentation. Provided more smartphone manufacturers adopt Android O (background optimization, better VOIP apps and customizable notification channels), Android will be one step closer to winning the mobile game.
Although fragmentation is not yet the “boogeyman” Google wants it to be, the issue should not discourage you from building Android apps. On the contrary, you’ll spend more time polishing the end product and subsequently deliver the ultimate user experience.