BusinessWeek: Android Faces Danger of Fragmentation

DivergenceIn the “we’ve been warning of this for months” department, a new article in BusinessWeek warns the companies producing Android (s goog) 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)