Fragmentation may hinder Android's growth

A new research report from IMS Research calls for Google to manage the increasingly fragmented Android operating system or face a backlash from developers and a slowdown in its market share gains.

In the report, IMS Research said Android's rapid progression from version 1.5 to 2.1 has resulted in four different versions of the OS. Thus, when a developer writes an application for one version of the OS, that app is not necessarily compatible with another version--making it difficult for developers to predict the reach of their applications and manage their development costs. 

IMS Research analyst Chris Shreck said Google is rumored to be working on a solution that would issue key updates via the Android Marketplace rather than through operators or device vendors. However, he warned that another issue being overlooked is how the Android software license is distributed. Shreck said the Apache software license, which Android uses, does not require licensees to contribute modifications of the Android platform back to Google. While this license characteristic serves to encourage licensees to innovate on the platform (without fear of having to share IP), it also allows licensees to alter the platform in isolation--a recipe for fragmentation. 

"I expect Android to see considerable market share gains in the immediate and near future. However, to keep up that pace of growth, particularly in the high-end market, Google absolutely has to manage fragmentation. Otherwise, other operating systems like Symbian or the LiMo Platform, both of which take a harder line on platform fragmentation in the software license, will stand to gain as open source alternatives," Shreck said.  

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