Does Android Have a Forked Future?

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 27, 2011

Every month new metrics roll in showing how successful Google's open source Android OS has become in such a short time. At the same time, there have been many concerns about the operating system forking and suffering from fragmentation problems, as we discussed here, and here. Android already has several current versions, but now there are some signs that Google's intent with Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) is vastly different from its intent with other versions of the OS. Is Google encouraging a fragmented Android ecosystem?

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes this post from Xavier Ducrohet on the Android Developers blog, announcing the Honeycomb version of Android, and notes that Honeycomb is looking like it is aimed at tablets and similar devices:

"I’ll spell out what I think is happening here. We’re seeing an Android fork. There will be one line for smartphones, the current Android 2.3, Gingerbread, line, and the forthcoming Android 3, Honeycomb, line. According to Ducrohet, besides Android’s common features set—multitasking, notifications, and widgets—Honeycomb will have a new UI (user interface) framework for creating great apps for larger screen devices; high-performance 2D and 3D graphics using a built-in OpenGL (Open Graphics Library); support for multicore processors; rich multimedia; new Bluetooth APIs (application programming interfaces) and enterprise enhancements such as encrypted storage and password expiration."

Indeed, if you follow this scenario out to its logical conclusion, Google could end up with three mobile operating systems that are very differently positioned: 1) Android for smartphones; 2) Android for tablets and similar devices; and 3) Chrome OS.  In Ducrohet's post, he clearly says: "Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) is a new version of the Android platform that is designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes."

Larger screen sizes? These devices don't sound like smartphones. Android is already seeing success on the Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet, which is the only tablet competing in any real sense with Apple's iPad. Vaughan-Nichols gets the real issue right here: Developers are probably going to have to write applications twice for the different versions of Android. Furthermore, Chrome OS has nearly no application synergy with the various versions of Android. In terms of both developers and supporting the Android ecosystem, Google should consider its forking plans carefully.