Consistency vs Fragmentation: Android
“Fragmentation: The process or state of breaking or being broken into small or separate parts”
We’ve been listening to figureheads of the technology industry claim that Android, Google’s popular operating system for smartphones, is fragmented. I.E not uniform. I actually agree with them, users buying different brands such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and HTC (among others) are getting different user experiences from android. This is as a result of google’s policy on android being an open platform. Anyone can tinker with it.
As a result, many android users are getting different experiences within the same platform. Yes, they all do the same thing, but UI layouts and movements are not necessarily the same.
Microsoft, Apple and Blackberry suggest otherwise when it comes to their Operating systems. They insist on consistency, which works for them quite well. Windows phone 7 (soon to be 8) is a beautiful interface! The Metro UI with it’s live tiles and smooth transitions is neat piece of work. Apple’s iOS system with it’s quick, easy to use interface is still a winner with many users from iPad to iPhone. Blackberry OS 7 doesn’t offer much compared with the others, but it still has a base with traditionalists who insist that a phone should be just that, a phone. They’re coming up with OS 10, which finally looks like something that can compete with android, windows and iOS. Lastly, Symbian’s trying to cling on to life (has it’s roots with Psion software. Remember?) but it’s still pretty functional in my opinion. Especially now that MS Office can be downloaded on to it (Nokia E7 users please take note.) It used to be licensed to other manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson and Samsung, but when android emerged, they dropped it. Android promised to yield greater revenue for them, and it has.
Pictorially, let me show the differences between uniformity and consistency.
One should note that Microsoft allows different companies to license Windows Phone, so we have Nokia, Samsung, HTC, LG and ZTE using the software on some of it’s products. Blackberry does not license it’s operating system, but it does license it’s push-mail/enterprise email software for other phones.
Now, this is what android (in it’s current form of “Ice Cream Sandwich” ICS 4.0.4) looks like in it’s default, untouched, unskinned form.
Pretty neat, stock android.
Manufacturers decided to customize android to differentiate it from rival offerings, which brought forth the whole fragmentation argument. A few examples from manufacturers are shown below, beginning with Samsung.
Quite different as you can see. This is their User Interface (UI) aptly named “Touchwiz” in it’s current (4th) generation. This is what samsung customers will get in their android smartphones.
HTC are well known for their user interfaces, all the way from Manila and Touch-Flo in windows mobile, to HTC Sense UI, now in it’s 4.0 generation.
Sony (formerly Sony Ericsson) also tweak android to their own tastes. It has a special “overview” feature which shows all widgets in a cool transition, as well as “timescape” which is a social networking timeline widget. (Not shown)
While all these android user interfaces look and behave different, they still function the same. In my opinion, the argument of fragmentation lies in product differentiation. All these manufacturers want the customer to experience their offering. It’d be a stiff market if all these android smartphone manufacturers delivered one thing, but then, look at windows phone and rival manufacturers. Nokia seem to be winning with their Lumia series despite offering the same exact software rival manufacturers have in their models. It’s not what the interface looks like, but how the phone looks, and feels and functions, as well as the hardware it’s bundled with.
If you’re not pleased with what manufacturers have to offer, you could be rebellious and install custom made android roms from a site like this one. It’s a process but you do get some pretty cool mods.