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There are at least four different versions of the Android operating system currently in the market, which has raised concerns that the platform will become fragmented and difficult to develop for.
With each additional version, developers must support and tweak applications multiple times — a burdensome process that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has warded off by making few device types and only a handful of OS updates. But now there’s some relief in sight, or at least according to Engadget, which heard multiple reports at CTIA that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is working on at least two ways to alleviate some of these problems. None of them will be immediate, but they could fall into place before the problem gets any worse.
Google is intimately aware of the problem and has devoted a web site to illustrate which platforms are being used the most. Based on devices that have accessed the Android Market within a 14-day period, Google said nearly half of Android devices are running the 1.6 OS version, and the latest release — 2.0.1 — has only 20.4 percent of the users, which even falls behind the 1.5 version, which has 31 percent of the total.
What’s the solution? Often Google and others talk about the mobile web being the solution. Soon everything will be accessed through the browser, and not through applications. In the meantime, Google has two plans:
The first move is simple: Google may be slowing down the pace of innovation, giving handset makers and carriers a chance to catch up and push out the latest updates to consumers. In the past 18 months or so, Google has quickly pushed out at least four OS updates — and most of them were badly needed since the OS was in its infancy. Engadget said things are expected stabilize by the time we get to Froyo (remember, the code names are tasty treats by alphabetical order so this marks the sixth iteration — cupcake, donut, eclair, frozen yogurt, etc.).
Google’s second move is a bit more complicated: Engadget says Google will be disconnecting many of Android’s standard applications and components from the OS to make them downloadable through the Android Market. This will enable major parts of the Android experience to be updated on Google’s timetable (and directly by consumers). This will likely start occurring with Froyo and continue with Gingerbread, it says. More importantly, this wouldn’t be limited to applications, like maps, but also components, which mean it could extend to virtual keyboards, browsers, or other more concrete features of the operating system.