Android Co-Founder Rich Miner: Fragmentation “An Overblown Issue”
Sure, smartphone developers find it frustrating to keep up with the multiple versions of Google’s Android operating system scattered across hundreds of millions of smartphones around the world.
But Android co-founder Rich Miner thinks the discussion of that fragmentation problem tends to get blown out of proportion.
“I think this is a bit of an overblown issue, frankly,” Miner said Tuesday at a tech forum hosted by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.
It’s not exactly surprising that a guy who helped create the world’s most widely used smartphone OS would think critics are getting a bit overheated. But Miner, now a partner at Google Ventures, did more than just dismiss the criticism with a wave of the hand.
In essence, his point was this: You can’t avoid a level of fragmentation with the huge number of Android devices in the wild. “Don’t forget, there are 1.5 million Android phones being activated every single day. There are 900 million devices out in the market,” Miner said.
But Google is now much better at working with the wide array of manufacturers and carriers who use Android, Miner said. And in most cases, he said, regular consumers don’t notice what version of the OS they’re running anyway.
“Us techies read the blogs and know what features we may be missing,” Miner said. “I think if you asked a consumer, `Do you feel like your phone OS needs to be updated today?’ they’re pretty happy with the results and the performance they’re seeing. So I’m not sure it’s a major issue.”
The downside of Android fragmentation is a perennial question for Google, one that was bound to follow Google’s choice to widely seed Android in the market back in 2008.
It’s obvious that handset manufacturers’ ability to use and tweak Android on their own devices—as opposed to Apple’s tightfisted control of its iOS platform—was the key to Android’s growth. Android devices are now used by more people worldwide, while iOS devices make more money.
But by casting such a wide net and remaining relatively hands-off, Google allowed multiple versions of Android to remain viable in the market for a fairly long period of time. Just this week, Google reported that the newest version of Android—known as Jelly Bean—has finally displaced the older “Gingerbread” version as the most widely used variant of Android. Gingerbread was first introduced in late 2010—an eternity in the smartphone market.
Miner pointed to Google’s fix of a recently identified security flaw as evidence that the tech giant has become more nimble in working with Android handset makers, known in the industry as original equipment manufacturers or OEMs.
“Clearly, in the early days of Android, there was some learning that had to be done between Google and the ecosystem—the handset OEMs,” Miner said. “I think Google is much better, as we’ve seen with the latest security release. Google got a patch out … very quickly to the OEMs.”
But that still can take time to “bubble through” the system, he said—just a reality of the way Android is set up.
“The OEMs, sometimes they might be a little bit too conservative. But they have to make sure that those releases are verified and tested, as do the carriers. Because it’s a Verizon or an AT&T that’s getting the phone calls from customers if that release isn’t robust.”