Android Fragmentation is Still a Lie (Premium)

I've long argued that Android fragmentation is a Red Herring since it doesn't negatively impact anyone in the real world. But there are now an estimated one billion Android devices now running an OS version that is at least two years old. Does that change anything?

No. No, it does not.

I first wrote about Android fragmentation over four years ago when I was still at Windows IT Pro.

"Fragmentation occurs with Android because devices that run on Google’s platform can never be updated in any meaningful way to a new product version," I wrote at the time. "And as you move up the chain through the various Android versions, there are of course additional features that users can enjoy. Currently, most users have to upgrade to a new device to get those new features. And even some new devices aren’t necessarily using the very latest Android version."

This came up at the time because Apple CEO Tim Cook was bragging about new iOS version uptake at WWDC, as he always does. In Cook's view, Apple's ability to upgrade most of its user base very quickly is a huge advantage.

Many third party onlookers agree with Mr. Cook. And this week, many are reporting on an estimate, which apparently originated on this strangely plain-looking post by engineer Dan Luu, that about half of all active Android devices are "two years out of date."

"With the data we have, we can take a guess at how many outdated devices are in use," he writes. "In May 2017, Google announced that there are over two billion active Android devices. If we look at the latest stats [which he provides], we can see that nearly half of these devices are two years out of date. At this point, we should expect that there are more than one billion devices that are two years out of date!"

This fragmentation issue was something we saw with Windows Phone, too, of course. But because Android is the most popular mobile platform by far, and accounts for over 80 percent of all devices in use, the issue is considered to be far more serious.

I don't see it as a problem.

First, "fragmentation" has done nothing to slow the growth of Android. In fact, Google has extended its lead over iOS in the four years since I wrote my first article on this topic.

For users, the only thing that really matters is the apps, and all Android apps work just fine on all of the supported and in-use versions of Android. I can't recall a report that has ever claimed otherwise, that Facebook, Instagram, or whatever stopped working on their phones. Developers support new OS features and they appear for those with newer OS versions.

Users do, of course, benefit from new platform features, though the past two Android releases have been pretty minor in that regard. But they get those features like we used to with Windows: When they buy a new device. And whether a new phone you buy today ships with Android 7.x or 8.0 simply does not matter to most people.

Security is a potential concern, for sure. And And...

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