opinion

OS Versions: Melted Ice Cream Sandwich

Stephen Yagielowicz

For adult application developers, having an entire customer base on the latest and greatest system is an easy way to deliver innovative features to the broadest audience possible; unfortunately, this is not always possible — especially for Android users that may be the victim of platform fragmentation.

The problem of operating system (OS) fragmentation is a very real issue, that at its core is a matter of having multiple versions of a given platform (in this case, the Android OS), wild in the field at any given time. This situation is not limited to Android, as Microsoft still has legions of devoted fans running its outdated Windows XP OS — passing on the option of upgrading to Windows Vista or Windows 7 — choices that make product support more challenging, while preventing users from enjoying the most current features and security advancements that the operating system has to offer.

The problem of operating system (OS) fragmentation is a very real issue, that at its core is a matter of having multiple versions of a given platform, wild in the field at any given time.

Microsoft, however, has a vigorous auto-updating process in place, which delivers regular updates, along with “service packs” that provide major version-intermediate enhancements, even to those users not ready to adopt the latest OS. Apple has a similar procedure in place.

Android makes no such effort, requiring users to update their systems manually — an update that rarely occurs, as most mobile users retain the OS that came originally installed on their device, and then periodically replace devices, rather than update them. Combine this reality with the relatively rapid pace at which updates to Android hit the market and you end up with a dozen Android OS flavors in the field.

To illustrate the scale of the problem, Motorola offers four flavors of Android in its current lineup — and the reason why provides insights into the equation:

“You may be wondering why all devices aren’t being upgraded to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Here’s the deal,” stated a Motorola blog post. “We work very closely with Google and cell phone carriers for every software update [and] obviously we want the new release to improve our devices.”

“If we determine that can’t be done — well then, we’re not able to upgrade that particular device,” the post concluded.

In other words, the latest OS version is not always an improvement over the previous generation, with differences in hardware capabilities further complicating the issue of features and compatibility for application developers.

For more information on the current state of Android version development and deployment, visit http://developer.android.com/resources/dashboard/platform-versions.html.

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