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Google: Android fragmentation not the problem; legacy versions are

May 20, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

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Google: Android fragmentation not the problem; legacy versions are

Android is often said to have a fragmentation problem, but according to Android founder Andy Rubin, that’s not right word choice. It’s more accurate to say that Android has a speed problem, as in the speed at which its engineers can develop.

“People call it fragmentation but that’s the wrong word for it. I think the right word is legacy,” Rubin said at the I/O press conference. “With these phones and devices, the iteration system is incredibly fast. It used to be 18 months was the lifespan of a device, but the software has to keep up.”

Semantics? Perhaps, but it’s the line Google has taken. When peppered with several more questions on the growing differences between Android devices, Rubin downplayed that users are harmed overall by Android’s breakneck pace. Though he understands user frustrations, development has to proceed for devices capable of handling them.

“Porting operating systems back to legacy [phones] is really, really difficult,” Rubin argued. “In history, it’s never done. You have 200-300 MHZ processors trying to run things meant for [1] GHz processors.”

Fragmentation is what occurs when an operating system splits into multiple versions that use different technologies and features. In the case of Android, fragmentation typically refers to a Hero running 1.5, a Dream running 1.6, and a Nexus One running 2.1. When manufacturers release their custom versions of Android that require additional work and testing to update, that complicates matters further.

A carrier dragging its feet also leads to problems, but Vic Gundotra defended carriers, saying that “These operators have to operate. They’re the ones who have to pick up the phone when something goes wrong, so they have to test it.”

Gundotra adds that carriers are getting better all the time and the speeds of update are likely to improve.

There were several questions related to fragmentation, but Google stuck to a general theme: “We need innovation” and it’s difficult to address backwards compatibility for certain features. Google will continue to attempt to make new features available to older devices – i.e. Google Maps Navigator getting 1.6 support – but users cannot expect that to happen for every feature. At some point, users with “legacy” versions of software will have to go without certain features.