By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
By now, it is pretty clear that Android fragmentation is a serious problem. If you don’t know what I am referring to, first of all, you need to do more tech blog reading. Android fragmentation is the reality of the Android ecosystem in which there are still millions of devices running Android Froyo 2.2, which is a few years old. Then there are some devices running 2.3, some running, 3.0, some on 4.0, and one or two devices officially running 4.1. Yes, it is a colossal mess.
You see, as opposed to Apple or even Windows Phone (Windows 8, aside), Google does not push Android updates to users, the OEMs do.
What that means is that only the Nexus phones get the latest version of Android and older phones, even ones that are just a few weeks old, are stuck with an outdated operating system. And putting aside the mess this causes for developers, there is a fundamental flaw in the psychological factor of buying an Android phone that might become an issue for consumers. Let me explain.
For now, I am still using an iPhone 4S as my primary mobile device. But to be honest, it is getting old very fast. The one and only reason I am still using it is iMessage. I have friends, many of them, that still depend on iMessage to communicate with me and losing the ability to send messages to those people, will affect how we communicate. (Some are half way across the world.) Yes, I know there is WhatsApp and Gtalk…
So, of course, I am looking to Android for my next phone. But what device will it be? The Galaxy Nexus? Old hardware. The Galaxy S3? Awesome hardware, old software (Ice Cream Sandwich). HTC One X? Good luck getting OS updates on that one. But what about the Note 2?
Here is the problem. My Note 2 is on the way and I am super excited about it. I was at least, until I opened up some tech blogs this week to discover that in Google’s upcoming event, the company will most likely announce a new Nexus phone running Android 4.2, Key Lime Pie (yes, really.).
Now, you tell me, how do you think I feel about the fact that the Note 2, which I purchased (well, it was a gift, but not the point) for a premium price will be running outdated software in a matter of weeks? Of course, this feeling is not unique to Google, it is true for the entire tech world, but Apple and other companies let you enjoy your new shiny product for a bit before making it obsolete (not literally, but Jellybean is SO much better than ICS that running ICS feels pretty old-fashioned). Apple has product announcements once or twice a year, which means I can remain a cutting-edge Apple user for at least 6 months.
My brand-spankin new Note 2 is old before I even unboxed it. The S3? Phhh, a dinosaur running an OS two generations old. Yes, it will get Jellybean eventually, but by then, who knows what Android version will be out!
My point is, when it comes to consumer psychology, Apple has it down perfectly in order to give its consumers a feeling that they own the top of the line product just long enough to get bored and want to upgrade to the next one! Google, on the other hand, is shooting itself on the foot here.
Android fragmentation is a problem for developers and even a problem for users who have different experiences using apps on different versions, but all those are problems that are solvable and Google is working on it. But causing new Android users a level of frustration when they buy a new device? That is just he worst kind of marketing Google could possibly do.
Bottom line? If I were Google, I would figure out a sustainable solution to the fragmentation problem of its platform before releasing the next version. But hey, that’s just me, a soon-to-be Android user.