updated 02:15 pm EDT, Tue May 10, 2011
Google program to minimize Android fragmentation
Google used its Google I/O day one keynote for a rare admission that Android was fragmented as well as a plan to solve it. The company is starting up a formal group to establish guidelines for both how quickly Android devices would get updated after new releases as well as a guaranteed timeframe during which they would get updates. Members of the program are initially promising to keep upgrading devices for at least 18 months after they're released "if the hardware allows."
Initial partners will include phone makers like HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, as well as carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Vodafone. Other companies are welcome to join.
The remarks acknowledge mounting problems in Android with consistently receiving upgrades. While some phone makers like HTC are relatively quick with updates, most phones end up waiting months after Google has released a new platform before they get it and in some cases never get it at all, even if the hardware is fully capable. Samsung in particular has developed a reputation for poor updates, often delaying upgrades by several months and abandoning phones after their first update.
Most of the splintering has come from phone builders that have insisted on custom interfaces for differentiation, which sometimes improve the experience but almost always delay updates. Only Google's reference phones, such as the Nexus One and Nexus S, get new versions of Android quickly. The lack of support has been an easy target for Apple, which has flaunted the speed and consistency of updates on iOS as a major edge.
Presenting a strategy to solve fragmentation is also a direct contradiction of Google's own executives. Both former CEO Eric Schmidt and mobile VP Andy Rubin have previously denied fragmentation even existed and made questionable claims about how well supported Android apps were on most devices. Many apps, including Google's own, will only run on the most recent version of Android and have frequently locked out the majority of Android users from experiencing new technology until several months later.
The company appeared to acknowledge this in a follow-up statement, where it admitted that the pace of Android itself was often wasted when the devices weren't following suit. "Innovation only matters if it reaches consumers," Google said.