History repeats itself – Fragmentation from Symbian to Android

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How many of you here remember Symbian UIQ, Symbian S60, and Symbian S80? These were the three branches of the Symbian OS some years back. While all Symbian at the core, they were different in capabilities and user interface. Oh, and Symbian S60 alone had some further fragments – S60 3rd Edition (feature pack 1, feature pack 2, feature pack 3) and S60 5th Edition. Crazy; right?

Symbian was severely criticised a few years back for this sort of fragmentation.

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Amazingly, that level of fragmentation is what we now find with Android OS. As at last count, we have Android 1.6, Android 2.1, Android 2.2, Android 2.3 (and its variants). Now to make matters worse, we have Baidu’s Yi (customised from Android) and Amazon’s custom Android OS, producing two outright branches or forks away from plain Android.

I was one of those who said that this sort of fragmentation was going to happen on Android, though I took heavy flak for it.

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How will the developer community respond to this? Will consumers find this fragmentation confusing? What happens when apps that run on standard Android do not run on Yi or Amazon’s custom job? Already, there are apps that run on Android 2.2 devices but not their 2.1 counterparts.

What do you think Have your say!

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27 comments

  1. We will have a definitive solution to this dichotomy when hardware is made to allow the installation of any OS…

    AND

    OSes are written to run any hardware platform..

    Without geeky savoir_faire.

    Until then, let the confusion continue.

  2. I don’t see this as much an issue compared to the symbian fragmentation back then. firstly Baidu is not even claiming to be an android Os rather a clone of the later so Google officially is not responsible for its development and it’s even not going to have the official market.

    Also the fragmentation in terms of android versions is still a minor issue; donut or cupcake are both old generations of android & no surprise at all if some apps are not supported. the mighty iOS also has some apps currently not supported on versions 3.13 & below even WM apps are not supported on WP7.

    @moderator, hv come to realize something on this blog that tends to be symbian biased with android Os being criticized more often than any other Os. I used symbian for over 5yrs on various devices like sendo x, Nokia 3250, N73, N95, C6, etc , until recently that I moved on to android Os with Galaxy S. It’s ok to have varieties and I would suggest to be promoting all Os on equal ground. thank you.

  3. kunlexism,

    firstly Baidu is not even claiming to be an android Os rather a clone of the later

    Really? Baidu Yi is not a clone; it is a customised Android OS.

    Google officially is not responsible for its development and it’s even not going to have the official market.

    That’s what you get when an OS is open source. Anyone can take it and do anything with it without official Google support. That doesn’t make it any less Android.

    Also the fragmentation in terms of android versions is still a minor issue; donut or cupcake are both old generations of android & no surprise at all if some apps are not supported.

    That’s exactly what happened with Symbian. S60 FP1 was an older generation compared to FP2. Are you admitting that the noise about Symbian fragmentation was a minor issue too?

    the mighty iOS also has some apps currently not supported on versions 3.13 and below

    Very true. Again, showing that much of the noise against Symbian was misguided.

    even WM apps are not supported on WP7

    That’s not fragmentation, because WP7 is a different OS from WM. Totally different.

    @moderator, hv come to realize something on this blog that tends to be symbian biased with android Os being criticized more often than any other Os

    Really? Some would say that the most criticised OS here is iOS. How long have you been reading this blog? If you have been here a long time, you will see that everyone gets their fair share of criticism here – Symbian inclusive.

    Cheers.

  4. It pains me a lot when I see people who do not know anything about technology write about it.

    Do you even understand what fragmentation is? Since when did updates to software become a problem?

    Users can customize the UI in Android but No matter the level of customization, it still remains Android and would always run Android applications. Amazon, Samsung, Motorola, Baidu etc have all created different UI for their devices. These are not forks, but extensions.

    I have been developing Android apps for a long while and am yet to encounter any issue with fragmentation. I write my apps just once and they run properly on all versions of Android (Tablets & Television sets inclusive).

  5. Sir Belfox,

    Since when did updates to a software become a problem? Apparently, it became a proble when rabid folks wanted a reason to knock Symbian. Then it stopped being a problem when same happened on Android.

    Its sick, really. Its bad for A, but a good thing for B.

    And you are either lying or you are lying about app compatibility on Android. I have used Android smartphone, and tried installing certain apps but was told they were compatible with version 2.2 and above.

    It was what happened on Symbian. It is what is happening now on Android, as well as iOS. Why you guys love to live in denial is beyond me.

  6. Yomi, am lost here. I no longer understand you. Are you complaining about app fragmentation or backward compatibility?

    The issue of backward compatibility affects every platform as each software update brings in new features. Or maybe you know a platform that is not affected by this? I did like to know.

    Next time, do a bit of quality research (not just plagiarizing what you see on other blogs). You seem to be confused about what you are writing.

  7. Sir Belbox >>

    I write my apps just once and they run properly on all versions of Android (Tablets & Televisions sets inclusive)

    Really? I dont believe that Sir. How can you make such a claim? Unless those apps u write are truly RUDIMENTARY. It is IMPOSSIBLE to write a truly useful app once and deploy (unmodified) to all versions of Android.

    Backward_compatibility can only be taken so far. Forward[compatibility can never be guaranteed because in moving forward, some features are dropped / Implemented differently in unpredictable ways.

  8. Dear belfox,

    Backward compatibility is a known cause of platform fragmentation, and yes; it affects every platform – which was what some of us said back then when Symbian was being torn apart for certain apps working on FP2 phones but not FP1 phones. My point exactly.

    As an OS matures, something has got to break – and its broken plenty on Android.

    You are the one who is either confused or being a blind fanboy. Platform fragmentation is becoming a big issue on Android as it was on Symbian. It was only a matter of time. And as more updates and customised versions show up, it will eat deeper and become a much bigger problem.

    Me, plagiarizing? That’s what you get when an ill-informed person wants to flex muscles. You are more lost than you think you are, as you cannot possibly know the meaning of that word.

    Is there anyone here who understands English and can help unconfuse my friend? He needs to take his own advise of doing some quality research before writing.

  9. Unless those apps u write are truly RUDIMENTARY. It is IMPOSSIBLE to write a truly useful app once and deploy (unmodified) to all versions of Android.

    Precisely my sentiments. Some kid who has learnt to put a few lines of Android code together wanting to talk big at his betters. Sigh.

  10. Fragmentation as detailed here is something that’s very inevitable because we always strive to better existing technology, incorperating features that were not in the existing technology and even removing the ones deemed obsolete. In the process, some incompatibility is bound to surface.

    If this is the price to pay for technological advancements, I’m sure most people will gladly welcome it.

  11. Fragmentation as detailed here is something that’s very inevitable because we always strive to better existing technology, incorperating features that were not in the existing technology and even removing the ones deemed obsolete. In the process, some incompatibility is bound to surface.

    If this is the price to pay for technological advancements, I’m sure most people will gladly welcome it.

    Bang! on the spot! Very well said.

    Fragmentation wasn’t what killed Symbian, and it won’t kill Android. It is a key part of the development process of an open platform. It has its benefits, just as its inconveniences exist.

  12. Actually, Android has really good forward compatibly support.

    Before Honeycomb was released, I was scared that I would have to rewrite my applications to run on tablets (like on iPhone & iPad). This turned out to not be the case, the app ran seamlessly without any modification.

    Developers who have issues are those that fail to follow best practices and future proof their applications.

  13. (
    Sir. belfox > Actually, Android has really good forward compatibly support.
    )

    Good, yes, but I ASSERT (again) that ‘ on ANY platform, you can NOT take care of EVERYTHING that will happen in FUTURE.’

    the architects of the OS can try hard to make it backward_compatible, but there comes a point where they have to choose between ‘OS improvement’ and backward_compatibility. And ‘improvement’ ALWAYS triumphs!

    To say, ‘I write my apps justonce and they run properly on all versions of Android (Tablets & Televisionsets inclusive).’
    ..smirks of arrogance, or plain inexperience.

    To drive home the point more poignantly, you can NEVER Completely future_proof an application (even when you follow industry.s best_practices)

    (You can lock your app’s orientation to portrait or landscape using the android:screenOrientation attribute in themanifest file.)

    Been hunting for a SYMBIAN utility that allows me do just that.

    I run it, and the orientation stays put- the way I set it..

    Ideas, anyone?

  14. I don’t believe that having newer versions of an OS can be called the same things as fragmentation. Every OS upgrades and unfortunately, this breaks compactiility with some apps. Just look at what happened when Windows Vista was first released.

    Ad for the Baidu OS, it is a forked version of android under a different name and therefore ceases to be called android. This has been done quite a bit actually. Fusion garage (I think that’s their name) released their tablet and phone running an OS called Grid OS which was derived from the Android kernel.

    Such OSes don’t really claim to be android and so IMO cannot be referred to as fragments. they even have their own app stores (at leas that’s the case with Amazon and Grid OS). application developers are not meant to build their app, upload it to Android Market and forget it there. They are meant to upgrade their apps frequently wiu new features and in order to make use of the advancements in the OS. any developer who fails to do this and finds that his app no longer works canno claim that he is a victim of platform fragmentation

  15. I don’t believe that having newer versions of an OS can be called the same things as fragmentation

    No-one here has said that it is fragmentation. However, it is one of the causes of fragmentation. Once a newer version of an OS breaks from the past, fragmentation occurs.

    Ad for the Baidu OS, it is a forked version of android under a different name and therefore ceases to be called android. This has been done quite a bit actually. Fusion garage (I think that’s their name) released their tablet and phone running an OS called Grid OS which was derived from the Android kernel.

    That’s similar to what happened with Symbian. It does not matter what you call it. Symbian UIQ was derived from Symbian source code. Same for S60 and S80. Same for the radically different version of Symbian used in Japanese handsets, with its entirely different ecosystem.

    I dislike the idea that we attempt to change the rules halfway through the game. If those other forks of Symbian were Symbian, these forks of Android are just as well Android.

  16. I dont know why this issue sounds so serious lol…inidividual ‘fragments’ will always have apps that they are compartible with..would their be a ‘fragment’ thats incompartible with all apps??? No!!! So its not an issue really…we re not gonna be using the same phone for 10yrs…

  17. @shayman, you just spoke my mind! I don’t see myself as an individual regular user of 10-15 apps suffering from this fragmentation. Neither am I tied to a single phone.

  18. Shayman and belushi,

    My position exactly. This issue is NOT that important, and the Android fanboys are speaking up to say so now, though many of them made a lot of noise about it when the focus was Symbian.

    The object of this piece was not to say that this Will affect Android users significantly. Its to show that while people may complain and criticise something, they don’t necessarily know what they are talking about.

    Because Symbian was the largest smartphone platform then, it was easy for mindless criticism to be thrown its say. Now, Android is.

    Platform fragmentation won’t hurt or kill Android. Its part of the side-effects of its strength as an open OS and as the dominant OS now.

  19. Sir Belfox, it would be wrong to erroneously conclude that this site is biased towards Symbian and Disses Android. That is far from the truth. If I must say, iOS has had it’s fair share of bashing more than any other platform in this forum.

    That said, the issue of fragmentation is very real in ALL platforms. I’d start with Symbian. You have Symbian series 60 (Symbian ^1), The various versions of Symbian ^3 (plain, Anna and Belle). then iOS has it’s share too but to a lesser degree. However, the issue of fragmentation is much more obvious with Android. Why? So many manufacturers make Android devices, and not all are committed in providing updates to their phones. Some individuals (like my wife with a Galaxy 5), finds themselves stuck to a particular version of an OS, unable to upgrade, because the manufacturer refuses to release the latest version all on account of economic reasons.

    Fragmentation is bound to come when there are more than one version of any OS in the wild. It becomes a problem when device makers are not committed in supporting their device. And it’s true, some apps in iOS do not run on version 2.0 and below. Same is applicable in Android. It’s even worse there by the fact that the same app may run in a version in a SE branded phone but may not run in a Samsung phone powered by same OS version. manufacturers also put their UI overlay on Android thus differentiating the user experience on their phone and at the same time making upgrading the phone difficult.

    I promised myself that if I were to buy my next Android phone I’ll buy either a flagship phone like the Galaxy S II, where I’m sure there’ll be upgrade from the manufacturer or I’ll buy a pure breed Android phone from Google like the Nexus 1 or S!

  20. @Afewgoodmen the fact that you are unable to upgrade your os to the latest version does not imply fragmentation or are you trying to infer that the Galaxy 5 running android froyo does not support the same app on devices running gingerbread? Well I have not encountered such since I got my Galaxy S which has had several update from 2.1, 2.21, 2.3, 2.32, 2.3.3, 2.3.4 and recently 2.3.5 with all my apps from the very first day still compatible. But can you say the same for symbian S^1 and S^3, I bet no because of the fragmentation in the Os.

  21. in fact the fragmentation in symbian Os then was so pronounced that you have different firmwares for different devices; can you run s60 3rd edition on S^1 devices?

  22. Kunlexism,

    This thing is very simple. That you have not experienced the effects of this does not mean it does not exist.

    That my home in Lagos has never been burgled does not mean that burglaries do not happen in Lagos. As a matter of fact, they do EVERYDAY.

    I have used a couple of Android devices, and I can tell you for a fact that certain apps simply do not install at all on pre 2.2 devices.

    There are other case scenarios too, such as apps not installing or running well on devices like the Galaxy Pro because of screen resolution.

    Belfox keeps attempting to chalk it up to developers’ incompetence. As EyeBeeKay has rightly pointed out, the guy is simply naive & inexperienced or brazenly lying.

    This problem is widely reported. We are not making it up here.

    And just so everyone is clear, I repeat that this problem is no big deal and won’t hinder Android’s growth or dominance, as it did not hinder Symbian’s.

    My article is academic, but I am not surprised that Android fanboys find it a difficult pill to swallow.

  23. Symbian has been around for over 10 years. That level of fragmentation is expected for an OS that is that old.

    Android has only been around for what – 3 years, and we are already seeing this level of issues. When Android grows up, it is going to be as fragmented as – if not more – than Symbian is at this point.

    Age does that on an open platform.

  24. Kunlexism, Fragmentation does not mean the same as compatibility with previous apps. It just shows a state where there various versions of a particular OS for whatever reasons. One of the obvious fallout of fragmentation is apps incompatibility among the different versions of the OS. other problems of course exists. Including vulnerabilities in the older versions.

    You are lucky to have bought the galaxy S and you’ve had support from Samsung in it’s upgrade because it is a flagship device. However, other buyers especially for mid class to cheap android phones aren’t so lucky. The manufacturers refuse to support an upgrade for their phones and as such the users are stuck with an older version like 2.1 for instance in the case of the galaxy 5.

    I think Google should call such erring smartphone makers to order. They shouldn’t make a phone if they don’t intend to support it. Or they should putting overlays which makes upgrading so very difficult!

  25. 2.1/2.2/2.3 cant be called fragments,just different o.s versions within which there is outstanding mobility. my galaxy 5 came wit 2.1 and within a week i had upgraded to 2.2 from madteam,and just last month upgraded to 2.3 from cyanogenMod7. so it should be seen as when nokia announces upgrade for a certain phone,say n9 or 5800. upgrade is easy,but laziness and whining is easier. by the way, only 1.8 and below MIGHT have app problems due mostly to hardware limitations,because VERY FEW games require 2.2 and above. infact most android problems are hardware related(ram,internal memory,screen resolution e.t.c)

  26. all this talking is just beating around the bush. i will always say its like saying a sch is fragmented cos it has classes. through out my sojourn in d andi app world (> 150 apps tested) i hav come across only 2apps that didnt work,weed farmer(due to screen resolution) & tesla light (2.2). oh,and hd games,expected,as my galaxy 5 lacks a gpu. i have been playing pes2011 since i got the g5 as 2.1 and many other powerful but non hd games. to the issue of companies abandoning their phones e.g se, thats why its good that it is open,developers are everywhere,a friend of mine upgraded his x10 mini pro from 1.6 right to 2.3 via cyanogenMod7 and its stable and even added multi-touch. the problems we face include ram issues,gpu lack,screen resolution(very minimal issue). back to simbi,can an n70 play n8 games? i guess not. and since the n70 cant be upgraded to run the n8 apps,that is what i will call fragmentation!!!

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