Google solved Android fragmentation and forgot to tell everybody

I had a whole post planned this topic but Ars Technica beat me to the punch.  The gist of their article:  Google actually pushed out a significant upgrade to Android without actually upgrading Android.  They pushed out major changes to location services, game services, music, search, notifications, messaging, and social networking through Google Play and Google Play Services.  By doing so, they were able to update these services for about 98% of their audience, without requiring a version update!

According to the Google developer team, they went this route to break their dependency on version updates for their innovations.  Now, they can deliver API updates to phones without intervention from carriers or OEMs.   Ars asked “is there a light at the end of the [version] fragmentation tunnel?”

What Ars missed, though, was that this approach solves OS fragmentation problems as well.  Access to Google Play, Maps, Gmail and other services requires a licensing agreement; that’s why you don’t see these services on other forks of Android.  Going forward, these Android forks will need to support Google Play to get these major feature updates.    And I’ll bet major new APIs built on top of the low level stack (for example, Google Now cards) will require Google Play Services to work as well.

So, if Samsung wants to fork Android, they can go ahead and do so – but if they don’t include Google Play they’ll miss out on a growing chunk of the Android API that developers will probably be implementing.  Same goes for anyone else in China or the Far East that wants to fork Android.  And Amazon, you’re already screwed.

Nice job, Ars, in catching an important nuance to Googlel I/O that every other outlet missed.

EDIT: another great post on the subject by Android Central.

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2 thoughts on “Google solved Android fragmentation and forgot to tell everybody

  1. Hank Pym

    The problem being that it solves nothing. The companies that are fragmenting the Android OS are doing so knowingly and willingly. They’re deliberately installing the older OS and creating their own stores and modifying said old OS to their specific hardware. So yay, let’s update this program and that service that none of them use anyway. Which is essentially like taking away a toy that a child doesn’t even know exists, and expecting them to have a tantrum over it. But they won’t. Because they’re busy playing with another toy.

    Reply
  2. jnedumgottil Post author

    I’m not sure that characterization is completely correct. Take Amazon, for example. They’ve updated the Kindle OS to Ice Cream Sandwich. So I think it’s reasonable to expect that they might continue to update their devices to the latest AOSP versions. However, if Google continues to distribute innovations through the Play Store, they will find it harder to keep up.

    Reply

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