CES 2013: Why Fragmentation May Not Be Going Away Any Time Soon

CES 2013: Why Fragmentation May Not Be Going Away Any Time Soon

Jan 10, 2013

When perusing the happenings at CES through various reports, it seems that everyone and their mother is showing off a tablet. There’s a lot of Windows 8 tablets out there, but there’s still plenty of Android tablets. Now, while there’s obviously going to be vendor-specific modifications because that’s just the way things work around here, it definitely appears that most tablets are running Jelly Bean 4.1, and not 4.2, based almost entirely on the status bars that are out there: the combined design where the back/home/multitasking buttons are on the lower left, and the notification bar in the lower right. 4.2 uses a standardized interface across all devices where the buttons are on the bottom (with lots of black space) and the notification bar with clock is on top.

Now, Jelly Bean 4.2 is a minor update to 4.1, but this still means that these devices are going to be a version behind when the next big release comes out. But there’s two reasons why this comes off as particularly ludicrous: one, this is a show for upcoming hardware. Features can and will change. Jelly Bean 4.2 has been out for 3 months. There’s no reason why a device, especially a tablet where carrier considerations don’t have to be taken into account, couldn’t have it by this point.

Second, both Nvidia and Synaptic showed off test devices that are running 4.2. Synaptic’s showing off a technology on a Sensa test tablet that will help detect user touch on thin-bezel devices, doing things like rearranging text. And Nvidia developed a reference tablet to show off the Tegra 4. Both are running Jelly Bean 4.2, from all appearances.

Let’s reiterate: Nvidia has Jelly Bean 4.2 running on a device using a brand new processor. Hardware manufacturers using existing hardware can’t be bothered to get Jelly Bean 4.1 working on it. And Synaptics has a tablet using brand new technlogy and hardware running the latest version of Jelly Bean. While it’s possible that Nvidia got early access to Jelly Bean 4.2 source code as they are a power player with Google connections (the Tegra 3 powers the Nexus 7), there’s no indication that Synaptics got early access, so why are they ahead of the game? Perhaps manufacturers feel more secure in releasing established versions of Android software on their tablets? Still, it just seems like the manufacturers are selfishly prolonging the fragmentation problem on Android, and for what purpose, exactly? It’s baffling.

OpenSignalMaps Shares Their User Data, Visualizing the Vast Array of Android Devices

OpenSignalMaps Shares Their User Data, Visualizing the Vast Array of Android Devices

May 17, 2012

“Fragmentation” is the word often tossed around when discussing Android, because of the vast number of devices with different screen sizes and operating system variants that are out there. But just how fragmented is the world of Android devices? The answer has been visualized thanks to OpenSignalMaps. They have created several interactive displays that show just how fragmented things are.

First, the number of devices. OpenSignalMaps claims to have seen 3,997 devices that have installed and run OpenSignalMaps (their analytics being the source for all this info), with the Galaxy S II and its variants being the most popular. In fact, Samsung models ranked up there with HTC devices as the most used among Android devices. Because custom ROMs can rename the variable that tracks the device name (android.build.MODEL), OpenSignalMaps claims that the number of devices may be even fewer, as 1363 devices only showed up once in their database, although some they tracked were legitimate devices.

599 brands were recorded, with 40% of the market using Samsung, way ahead of the competition, with HTC being second. They also show that Gingerbread is still the most popular OS, with 55.4% of devices using it compared to 8.5% using Ice Cream Sandwich. This is down from last year’s 65.4%.

Note that all this data should not necessarily be taken as a scientifically valid survey – while the sample size is very large and there likely is some statistical validity to these numbers, because the source is inherently biased – users who installed OpenSignalMaps, not a random sample of all Android users – they may not represent the Android population at large.

While this shows how complex Android fragmentation is, OpenSignalMaps warns that it is not necessarily a thing to bemoan. For their purposes, it gives them the ability to map data about carriers in many countries on many networks. They also remind people that this is partially the triumph of Android: an operating system that is running on many, many variants of hardware, powerful enough to run on the latest and greatest hardware in the top markets, yet flexible enough to run on low-end hardware in developing markets (data was tracked from 195 countries), and it’s customizable enough to run on many different network types, so users can ultimately have a choice of what they want from their phone. Android fragmentation may be tricky for developers, but there’s a reason why it has gotten to this point.

Why LTE Phones Will Cause More Headaches for Users Looking to Travel or Switch Carriers

Why LTE Phones Will Cause More Headaches for Users Looking to Travel or Switch Carriers

Dec 13, 2011

Android has had one particular advantage over iOS that can’t be argued: the availability of “4G” and LTE-capable devices that iOS so far has no access to. The faster speeds of these connections serve as a particular benefit to choosing Android phones, along with the bigger screens and advanced capabilities of the Android OS. However, it appears as if the move to LTE is coming with a major drawback: interoperability between LTE frequencies is going to be pracitcally impossible.
 
By way of Engadget, Wireless Intelligence is reporting that there will be over 200 LTE networks by 2015, and they will run on 38 different frequencies. Compare this to the current 3G situation, where in the US, GSM phones that run on AT&T’s 3G band can’t run on T-Mobile’s, and vice versa. It is at least possible for phones to work on multiple bands, but these are not common. These promote vendor lock-in, and prevent users from moving to a new carrier easily. It was hoped that LTE’s standardized elements would allow for this lock-in factor to be lessened, but it appears as if that is not the case.
 
This will prove to be a problem in particular for international travelers, who will not be able to easily use the phone of their choice when traveling abrouad, or at least will not be able to buy prepaid data SIMs to access data while on the go at faster speeds. As well, this will only further vendor lock-in in the US, as with so many LTE bands out there, users may need to buy new phones when they switch their network. This doesn’t even discount the potential environmental impact of basically being forced to throw away older phones when switching networks, just because they don’t support specific bands of LTE.
 
The manufacturers and carriers have little benefit to try to promote standardization, as lock-in helps to keep customers and sells more phones when they do change. It may require regulation, perhaps even self-regulation, in order to help users looking to use their phone wherever they choose to, not where their carrier chooses to.

Samsung Launches Remote Test Lab Service for Testing Apps on Samsung Devices Over the Web

Samsung Launches Remote Test Lab Service for Testing Apps on Samsung Devices Over the Web

Aug 12, 2011

Device incompatibilities and fragmentation are an issue on Android, and with all the different permutations of hardware, it may always be an issue. However, Samsung is definitely trying to make this less of an issue on their hardware. First, their Galaxy line of devices share a similar hardware profile, using similar electronics between their various devices in order to help reduce the amount of issues that might pop up. However, this doesn’t mean that issues still don’t exist at all, and it may be tricky for developers without one of Samsung’s Android devices to test and address issues on them. So, Samsung has launched a clever solution to help developers test their apps on Samsung devices: the Remote Test Lab.

A free service available to those with free Samsung Mobile Innovator accounts, the Remote Test Lab allows developers to install their apps on real Samsung hardware, and test them out over the web. This way, they can test out how their applications will work on Samsung devices, including ones they might not have. There’s also a screen capture abilty, and given how Samsung devices do not often have screen capture built in to the device, this is a huge help for getting images of games.The RTL service is free but limited to a certain amount of time per day for basic account users, but still free to test out. Those interested in testing out the service can visit Samsung’s lab.dev site.

Considering how fragmentation and device incompatibility is such an issue on the Android platform, a service like this is something that other hardware manufacturters should jump on. With such a wwide array of devices, hardware manufactuers don’t want to be known as the one company that constantly has incompatible apps. It’s impossible for developers to make apps that will run on everything perfectly, and it’s difficult for many smaller ones to test out on all hardware permutations, so a remote testing service from the other manufacturers could be a boon toward making fragmentation and incompatibility a thing of the past.

Google Announces Partnership With Carriers and Manufacturers to Reduce Fragmentation

Google Announces Partnership With Carriers and Manufacturers to Reduce Fragmentation

May 11, 2011

Google’s I/O event has been home to plenty of notable events and announcements, such as Google’s beta testing of a cloud-based music service, but one that should hopefully benefit many Android users in the near future is a hopefully major improvement in the fragmentation issues that have so far plagued Android, by ensuring that new devices will be receiving the most recent version of Android for up to 18 months after they release.

Google is going to work with carriers and manufacturers to ensure that any new Android devices from participating manufacturers and carriers will receive the most recent version of Android for the device at launch, as well as for up to 18 months after the device is initially released. While the caveat of “participating manufacturers and carriers” sounds like there might be exceptions, but this is not the case at all – all 4 major carriers in the US (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint) and popular Android manufacturers HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and LG, who manufacture a large majority of the phones on those carriers in the US will be part of the program.

While there are not any specific details on what this program will entail, it should help to ease fragmenatation issues, especially as it is possible right now to go out and buy a phone like the Samsung Captivate that is running Eclair, two versions behind the most recent version of Android, Gingerbread. With future phones being ensured that they will get the latest Android, fragmentation should hopefully reach levels closer to iOS than what has been seen on Android, where many different OS variants have been seen, and phones often lag behind. With this insurance to keep phones modern, this should help out with fragmentation of devices for developers, and with consumers who can now stay current on their Android experience.

Source: Wired

CyanogenMod 7 Brings Gingerbread to Many Phones for the First Time

CyanogenMod 7 Brings Gingerbread to Many Phones for the First Time

Apr 19, 2011

One of the most prominent names in the Android custom ROM scene is CyanogenMod, helping to provide a less cluttered and more customizable user experience than what many stock versions of Android provide. The latest version of CyanogenMod has been released by the CyanogenMod team, CyanogenMod 7 Final. This version of CM runs Android 2.3.3, better known as Gingerbread, which is the latest version of Android available for phones. Installing CyanogenMod requires root access and an app like ROM Manager from the Android Market – if you’re interested in installing CyanogenMod 7 Final for yourself, granted that your device, including a variety of popular phones, and tablets like the Nook Color, is among one of the 24 models (not including sub-variants, like the various Galaxy S models) that CyanogenMod is compatible with, search for how to root your phone, or visit the helpful XDA-Developers forum, find your phone, and you can find instructions on how to root your phone and how to install a custom rom on your phone.

The interesting thing about CyanogenMod is that this is going to be many users’ first taste of Gingerbread on their phones. In fact, CyanogenMod even beat some of the manufacturers to Gingerbread support, like with the Samsung Galaxy S. The source code for Gingerbread for the Galaxy S was released after CyanogenMod 7 was released in an unofficial, user-supported variant. The Android user community is very willing to support their devices to do what they want on them, without being reliant on what the manufacturers are willing to do.

Now, the custom rom experience is only recommended for users who are willing to tinker with their phones and aren’t afraid to violate their warranties. However, if you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, and improve the experience of your phone, then a custom rom like CyanogenMod 7 is a good choice, but note that most phones will have a wide variety of custom roms available. My suggestion is to play around with a few, to find what works best for you. However, if you want Gingerbread on your phone right now, CyanogenMod may be your only choice right now.