February 28, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Everyone discussing Android OS fragmentation should take a seat. You’ve have had more than a year to discuss the differences among Donuts and Froyo ad nauseam. The new source of headache for developers and end users will not be whether a device is running Android 2.2. It will be whether that device runs the right processor.
MadFinger Games today released Samurai II: Vengeance, an excellent adventure game in which players slash their way through multiple levels of blood and bad guys. I played it briefly at Mobile World Congress, and that will probably be the only time I get to play Samurai II until I purchase a new device. According to its Android Market listing, Samurai II: Vengeance “is optimized for use on NVIDIA Tegra based Android devices only.”
This is the first of what might be many cases in which developers target a specific processor when developing an app. And you know, what? It may actually prove to be the sensible thing to do for people creating games like Samurai II, which has high-quality graphics, an original soundtrack, advanced AI, and was designed to run at 60 frames per second. Why put in all that work into developing the best possible game, and then downgrade in order to meet the needs of users who don’t have the desired hardware that you used to create it?
Android developers have to weigh the importance of delivering the best possible product and being available to service as many people as possible. In the interest of assuring that their products run as smoothly and stunningly in the user’s hand as it did in testing, developers may choose to focus on one hardware factor and neglect the others. The number of people with a Tegra II device is incredibly small (for now), meaning MadFinger must forgo the possible sales of the millions of HTC EVO (Snapdragon processors) or Galaxy S (Hummingbird processor) who would have loved to spend their $5 on the game.
What worries me about this possible problem has more to do with when devices of a similar generation are denied access to apps they are capable of supporting. A Netflix Android app could run on an NVIDIA or Texas Instruments processor right now, but Netflix has chosen so far to support only Qualcomm products that have anti-piracy DRM (other processors like the Tegra 2 are slated to get future support). Imagine if Hulu decides to adopt a similar strategy and Android users have to choose between rich gaming experiences and the ability to watch House reruns.
Open Handset Alliance members must work together to develop some kind of standard. It’s great that Android allows for so many different form factors to appeal to everyone, but we’ve strayed too far. It’s inexcusable for us to reach a point where similar class devices don’t get similar class experiences just because of the names on the chipsets powering them. We routinely write about apps that lead people to complain it doesn’t support pre-2.1, non U.S. locales, Galaxy S phones,or QVGA screens. The last thing the world needs is another factor getting in the way of running the apps that we know and love.