Android Fragmentation and Enterprise Mobility

  • 14-Oct-2013

Android may be the most popular smartphone OS globally, with over a billion mobile devices running it, but lurking beneath the impressive market share numbers lies a problem that confounds mobile developers. As you've probably guessed, I'm talking about "Android fragmentation" -- the sheer diversity of versions, variants, and flavors of the Android OS out there.

Consumers as kids in the candy store?

Unlike competitor Apple, Google does not tightly control the Android experience and device manufacturers (e.g. Samsung) and carriers (e.g. AT&T) add their own bells-and-whistles to the core OS. For instance, Amazon’s Kindle and Samsung’s Nexus phones, different as chalk and cheese, both have Android under the hood. To illustrate, compared to the iOS ecosystem, the Android scene is very different – just take a look at these Gustav Klimt-esque portraits of the heterogeneity that exists in the Republic of Android.

Arguably, this is good for the consumers because they enjoy a larger range of options to choose from. But developers and particularly enterprises are not exactly feeling like kids in a candy store when confronted with all the Kit Kats, Jelly Beans, Honey Combs, Ice cream sandwiches and then some. The late Steve Jobs even took a jibe saying “users should not be forced to play system integrators.” Not surprising then, that when it comes to the enterprise segment, iOS devices have a greater marketshare.

How does this impact your enterprise mobility projects?

One obvious consequence of this fragmentation is having to support a greater variety of devices. Many enterprises prioritize and decide what versions/platforms they will support or not based on their target market customer or employee segments. Then for the chosen subset of Android variants, they factor in the necessary extra time and resources for some additional development and more importantly, testing to ensure a good user experience for their Android apps. I call this the “they’re the same but they’re different too” approach to Android. This increases the effort and funds required but actually the easier part of the problem.

Where fragmentation hurts is in app management and security aspects. This is particularly true if you have a BYOD policy in place. That’s because Google may fix the security vulnerabilities in the core OS but these fixes may not come available immediately to all the versions and/or the manufacturers and carriers may not be able to implement these fixes in their versions. You can mitigate this to an extent -- by specifying a baseline Android version required in your BYOD policy -- but cannot completely eliminate it. Google and some of the larger manufacturers like Samsung are trying to address this in different ways but it still remains an issue. Proceed with caution.

You’ll encounter many other tricky issues in your enterprise mobility projects. In addition to in-depth vendor evaluations. Our brand new Enterprise Mobile Platforms research is a good place to find many best practices and pitfalls to avoid.

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