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Summary:

In the “we’ve been warning of this for months” department, a new article in BusinessWeek warns the companies producing Android phones that the more they move to differentiate their products, the more fragmented the platform image becomes. The main theme in the article is that it […]

DivergenceIn the “we’ve been warning of this for months” department, a new article in BusinessWeek warns the companies producing Android phones that the more they move to differentiate their products, the more fragmented the platform image becomes. The main theme in the article is that it is natural for handset makers to want to make their phone different than the pack, but there is a real danger as the more you diverge from the Android image, the less benefit you get from same.

Android backers have tried to avoid splintering by corralling several companies into the Open Handset Alliance. “We are trying to do all we can to make sure fragmentation doesn’t happen,” says Google spokeswoman Katie Watson. Yet, because thousands of developers, handset makers, and carriers use and contribute to the code, Android is harder to control than rival efforts, such as the software running the iPhone.

The author must have been paying attention to jkOnTheRun as I have been shouting the same thing for a good while. The more fingers in the Android dessert, the more flavors of the platform evolve. This creates so much confusion with the consumer, who sees so many different features, that the platform eventually gets lost in the shuffle.

This is exactly what happened to Windows Mobile, a perfect example of this fragmentation that should not be overlooked. That platform has suffered from the phenomenon for years, and it’s so bad that even the same phone model can be radically different from carrier to carrier. This happens as the platform (WinMo) is only the base, then the handset maker adds specialization and finally the phone carrier puts final touches on top of everything. This is so widespread that it’s not uncommon to see a particular phone running one version of the OS on one carrier, and a different version on another. While the consumer loses out due to this fragmentation, the platform is the ultimate loser as the image is totally distorted. BusinessWeek sums it up well:

Android has a lot to gain from ending up on a range of devices with a host of applications. But its backers will have to avoid code splintering and brand dilution if they want to reap the benefits.

(hat tip to Celeste for pointing out the article)

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  1. This could also be avoided if phones were more open (i.e. easier to hack and put whatever OS you want on it). We can order computers with our choice of Linux, XP, Vista, and [soon] Windows 7. I don’t like the idea of the phone hardware and software going hand-in-hand.

  2. GoodThings2Life Thursday, October 15, 2009

    I’ve said that about open source for years… especially with Linux. IMHO, the reason it’s never been popular is because people like Baskin Robbins’ for ice cream, but that’s about it.

    I think that’s a decidedly positive factor about Mac OSX… there is one flavor fits all, no Home, no Professional, etc. Just OSX. And when you have a sea of flavors for what you’re used to and can’t decide, the simplicity of that single choice is very tempting.

    But back to Android… if they allow carriers and OEM’s to customize the code and experience… whose fault is it when it doesn’t work? Is it Google’s? Verizon’s? HTC’s? Customers are going to take their pick and then they’re going to take their pick to something else.

    Of course, the saving grace is the open source. The user community will love it for the same reason as Windows Mobile… very easily customized and hacked to satisfy those same frustrated users. So I dunno, in spite of all this rambling, maybe it’s not as big a deal as we want it to seem.

  3. OS X on the laptop and OS X on the phone – what could be better? I don’t need no Android.

    There’s always the upcoming Nokia N900 if you really want to legally hack your phone. It’s Linux without the extra bloated Java layer (I think).

  4. “The author must have been paying attention to jkOnTheRun as I have been shouting the same thing for a good while.”

    I doubt it. This is a pretty obvious point that other made long before you.

    1. Darwin, I simply have to ask: if you all do is leave negative comments to what we write here and on the main GigaOM site, why are you wasting your time reading the content? It’s your time to waste, but I thought I’d ask if there was any logic behind your decision. ;)

  5. Chris Pearson Monday, October 19, 2009

    All devices marked ‘with Gooogle’, and any that pass Google’s compatibility tests will run the applications. Just because the UI is customized (HTC Hero, MotoBlur) doesn’t mean the applications are incompatible. The devices which don’t pass muster, and won’t be compatible don’t get the marketplace. Fragmentation over.

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