In the Android Ecosystem, Fragmentation is Nothing New
All the way back in 2011, before Android marched to the top of the mobile platform wars, developers were voicing concerns about the fragmentation of the platform. In a post back then, I noted this quote from a study that Appcelerator and IDC did: "The Appcelerator-IDC Q2 2011 Mobile Developer Survey Report, taken April 11-13, shows that interest in Android has recently plateaued as concerns around fragmentation and disappointing results from early tablet sales have caused developers to pull back from their previous steadily increasing enthusiasm for Google’s mobile operating system."
Recently, there has been alarm in the press over how much Andoid fragmenation there is, but the fact remains that Google benefits from the spread of both the Android releases that it controls, and the open forks that keep appearing.
Android's ascension to the top of the smartphone field has been meteoric. In July, Strategy Analytics researchers delivered their latest smartphone market share numbers, which showed Android reaching new highs at a record 84.6 percent share of global smartphone shipments.
As I noted here, though, Google steers a preferred version of Android (the version used by members of the Open Handset Alliance, with Google Play support and services), while the Android Open Source Project walks its own path. The fact is, both channels benefit Google in big ways.
Market share numbers from ABI Research on Android show that Google’s version of Android is on 65 percent of phones, while the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is on 20 percent. The Next Web has noted that that 20 percent figure could be a warning sign for Google:
"The concern for Google centers around the fact that AOSP handsets don’t emphasize Google services. Since Google is not a primary hardware company — though it has its Nexus range and used to own Motorola — having its services as a central of Android is an important way to get engagement (and revenue) from mobile phone owners."
The fact is that the whole Android ecosystem benefits Google, and forked versions are nothing new.
"Would it be better for Google’s bottom line if everyone was under the Google Play roof? Of course it would be. That said, the Android Open Source Project is a very nice safety net, capturing many handset manufacturers and users into the Android ecosystem rather than have them go elsewhere. It helps defend Google’s income derived from its version of Android, which is always a good goal for any company, especially one based in technology."
Notably, ABI Research numbers suggest that Chinese and Indian phone manufacturers accounted for 51 percent share of global shipments for the first time in the last quarter. These phone makers may be more inclined to build around open forks of Android, so fragmentation is not going to end. Still, even Android forks help to advance the Android ecosystem, and we've learned that as we've observed fragmentation occurring for years now.