iOS and Android OS Fragmentation

Jon Evans, over at TechCrunch:

More than two-thirds of iOS users had upgraded to iOS 5 a mere three months after its release. Anyone out there think that Ice Cream Sandwich will crack the 20% mark on Google’s platform pie chart by March? How about 10%? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

OS fragmentation is the single greatest problem Android faces, and it’s only going to get worse. Android’s massive success over the last year mean that there are now tens if not hundreds of millions of users whose handset manufacturers and carriers may or may not allow them to upgrade their OS someday; and the larger that number grows, the more loath app developers will become to turn their back on them. That unwillingness to use new features means Android apps will fall further and further behind their iOS equivalents, unless Google manages – via carrot stick, or both – to coerce Android carriers and manufacturers to prioritize OS upgrades.

Android fragmentation is a pain for developers and, perhaps even more worryingly, a danger for users who may not receive timely security updates. To be sure, Apple rules-the-roost when it comes to having better updated device, insofar as users tend to get their updates when they become available. Whether those updates contain needed security upgrades is another matter, of course, but Apple at least has the opportunity to improve security across their ecosystem.

Unfortunately, where Apple sees their customers as the people using the devices, Google (and RIM) both have mixed understandings of who are their customers. Google is trapped between handset manufacturers and carriers whereas RIM is largely paired with the carriers alone. Neither of these companies has a timely, direct, relationship with their end-users (save for RIM and their PlayBook, which has routine updates that bypass their mobile devices’ carrier-restrictions) and this ultimately ends up hurting those who own either companies’ mobile devices.

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