With the introduction of the Motorola (NYSE: MOT) Droid today by Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), there are now three different versions of the Android operating system currently for sale, which is raising red flags that the platform could become fragmented.
The problem with fragmentation is that developers will have a difficult time developing applications that could run smoothly on each platform. Besides hardware differences, like screen sizes, there will be software differences, too. Some phones will support multi-touch, and others won’t. Not to mention, each manufacturer is building their own user interface on top of the platform that offers a host of other features.
All of the problems could be solved if the older devices were upgraded to the latest software, but that’s not likely going to happen, reports IDG News Service. The Motorola Cliq runs version 1.5; the Motorola Droid runs 2.0 and most others run Android 1.6.
Motorola and Samsung were coy in saying whether it would upgrade its current handset line-up, and Google told IDG gave an equally vague answer. A Google spokeswoman said: “Because Android is open source, all software updates we release are available for carriers and handset makers to take and update their current or future Android-powered devices.” But in some cases, the older hardware might not be able to support the latest software.
While the issue is not new to mobile, it may be worse for Google (NSDQ: GOOG). To date, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has rolled out three major versions of its iPhone operating system. Developers were expected to update their apps in order to support the latest platform. However, Apple does not currently suffer from having multiple hardware configurations or UIs. Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) perhaps is a more relevant comparison. But it charges a license fee for Windows Mobile and doesn’t provide over-the-air updates for its operating system. Rather, it rolls out a new version every year or so, forcing users to purchase a new phone in most cases to get the new OS. Developers are given enough notice to make the necessary changes. While Microsoft has a slower pace to market, the methodology also may ease fragmentation issues. In October, Greg Sullivan, Senior Product Manager for Windows Mobile told mocoNews that since Google is relying on an open source platform, it could be affected by the platform splitting off and having multiple threads, which causes confusion. “It remains to be seen if that will happen,” he said.