Android Device Makers Like OS Fragmentation

Amazon Kindle FireAndroid hardware manufacturers have grown tired of Google’s requirements for device performance and design in order to become “Google Approved.” So, they’re welcoming Android fragmentation and are “forking” their own versions. Amazon’s Kindle Fire is an example, and proof that devices can make it without Google and the Google App Marketplace Play Store.

Is fragmentation good or bad for independent developers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.  

Christopher Mimm of MIT Technology Review spoke with Skyhook Wireless CEO Ted Morgan about what he calls a “mutiny” from Google’s official Android. Rather than continuing as commodity vehicles for the delivery of Google’s mobile OS, device makers are embracing the mostly open nature of the platform by creating customized (forked) versions to run on their devices.

“I’m spending a lot of time with companies forking Android,” says Morgan. “Nobody wants to just be a manufacturer for Google. You see that with what Amazon has done, where they made it their own, and you also see a whole host of manufacturers taking Android down their own path.”

The ability to modify Android source code as needed is a big deal when compared with the completely closed nature of Apple iOS. I agree with Mimms that Android source fragmentation is paradoxically beneficial to the overall market share of Android. Plenty of average users may not know, or care, that the code running on their devices is Android, which may or may not have been originally derived from work at the Googleplex.

Though customized Android expansion is good, and encourages further innovation, I’d like to see device makers release more information about the modifications and expected performance for tech-savvy users and Android enthusiasts. For example, troubleshooting the Amazon version of Gingerbread is tricky, since not all events produce exactly the same outcome as with the official Google version.

This could mean trouble in the long run as more device makers build closed versions of the OS. I can imagine a plethora of differences as future devices begin behaving slightly differently, frustrating users because they have to go through different documentation for each device. Perhaps the future of customized Android isn’t quite so bleak, yet only time will tell.