In an item on his personal blog, Dan Morrill, the Google program manager who I thought was insufficiently concerned about Android fragmentation, has followed up on his original post. He mentions my take, and while he says he found it somewhat histrionic, that’s okay — he also says he liked it.
I still think Morrill in particular and Google in general are being too breezy in their dismissal of the complications for consumers stemming from the fact that it’s upgrading Android faster than handset manufacturers can keep up. Morill says that phone buyers are smart enough to understand the concept of “last year’s model.” But we’re not talking about phones from a year ago which have since been replaced by this year’s models-fragmentation, or whatever you want to call it, affects multiple phones released in 2010 which haven’t been replaced by anything.
Motorola’s i1, for instance, runs Android 1.5, which is four revisions back from the current one, 2.2-and it isn’t even for sale yet. It’s a new kind of “last year’s model”-one that arrives after this year’s models. I can’t think of any comparable situation in the whole history of personal technology.
Morrill contends that “the vast majority of regular-Joe Android users” don’t care about this stuff at all. I’m sure he’s right that there are teeming masses of folks who either don’t mind or aren’t aware that the new phones they buy don’t have Android’s newest features and can’t run some apps. For sophisticated types, though, it’s a bummer that must be weighed against the multiple arguments in favor of the Android platform.
(And in case it isn’t clear, I don’t keep returning to this topic because I want to find reasons to bash Android-I come back to it because I like Android and hope that it thrives.)
While Morrill does keep finding reasons to conclude that fragmentation isn’t worth worrying about, he does end by acknowledging that the multiple-version situation is “painful” for some Android users. It’s the closest I’ve seen Google come to admitting that it’s simply going about its business in a way with a different set of trade-offs than any operating-system company before it, and that it’s not without consequences. That’s nice to hear, since my concern all along hasn’t been that fragmentation is a disaster so much as that it was an issue that Google seemed to be unwilling to see.
Morrill also appears to be very optimistic that handset manufacturers will soon get better at keeping up with OS upgrades. Given that he knows far more than I do about what’s going on behind the scenes at Google’s partners, I’ll take that as good news…