Fragmentation within the Android mobile operating system has never been worse, according to a new report from Open Signal. Even with newer devices such as the Galaxy S 4 launching with new versions of Android, the report shows that fragmentation has tripled since last year.
Around one third of all Android devices surveyed for the report are running a 2-year-old version of the OS. This type of fragmentation can play well for certain companies but for Google and the average consumer, it is bad news.
As we have seen with recent security issues, Android updates are critically important simply to protect a phone, much less provide it with new features. Since many phones do not receive updates for months after Google releases them, they are left without proper protection from viruses whereas Google's Nexus devices are patched right away.
Fragmentation: Good or Evil?
When the word "fragmentation" is used, most people consider it to be a bad thing that hurts everyone involved. There are certainly downsides to it, especially for the consumer, but at the same time it is intertwined with core aspects of the Android ecosystem.
Android has always been about offering as many different options as possible, whether that be price points, screen sizes or features. Unlike Apple, Google has tried to appeal to the masses by offering an OS that can be used in enough devices to suit everyone.
Simply by having a large number of devices made by dozens of companies, fragmentation occurs. This fragmentation has allowed some phones to be offered at a low price point, making them attractive in emerging markets or even in the U.S.
Those cheaper phones do come with a pretty hefty downside, said analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.
"Fragmentation is bad for almost everyone. It's bad for Google, because it means that the latest APIs that promote its latest services are not being distributed to the widest audience," Greengart told us. "It's very bad for developers, who need to choose whether to use the latest APIs -- which can mean better apps and faster development -- and accept a more limited market, or program for the lowest common denominator."
Not Everything Is Bad
While it took many months for the latest version of Android, version 4, also known as Jelly Bean, to displace Android 2.3, called Gingerbread, Google recently announced that 37.9 percent of users are now running Jelly Bean. Those adoption rates are still far below the 95 percent of iOS users that are running iOS 6, but it is better than where things were a few months ago.
Other good news for Android users is that Samsung now has control over 47.5 percent of the market, and since its latest Galaxy phone is being sold with Jelly Bean, the latest Android OS adoption rates are rising.
No matter how you view the fragmentation in the Android market, Open Signal summarized it well in its report: "While fragmentation certainly poses a headache to developers who have to test and optimize on an ever-increasing number of devices, the success of the Android ecosystem cannot be separated from its fragmented, free-for-all, nature."