Primetime: Android Fragmentation Isn't Fixed By Pixel Phones

Google had their big day and shook a little bit of the world with their new Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. They did away with the Nexus moniker and branded the device with a ‘G’ on the back of the phone – no more LG, HTC, Moto, or Huawei naming anywhere. It even says in tiny print on the bottom back of the device, “Phone by Google,” even though we all know that HTC built both models. The Google Pixel phones are Google’s answer to the Apple iPhone, so they are solidly built and technically high-end. They are also expensive like an iPhone and only offer two levels of non-expandable storage – 32GB or 128GB.

The Google Pixel smartphones should sell well, although there will be many Nexus users refusing to switch either on principals or because of the cost. Google has helped in this regard by offering to finance on their website and, of course, the carriers which do sell them offer payment plans as well. Even as good a device as the Pixel and Pixel XL are, they may not sell enough to beat the likes of Samsung, Huawei, LG, or any other Android device that dominates that ecosystem. Those manufacturers spend too much money on advertising and marketing their products. However, without more devices in the market running the pure Android OS Android will always suffer from its fundamental issue – fragmentation.

We can say what we want about the restrictive iOS, but when an update is available, almost all iPhones receive it and then they are operating on the same page. Maybe Google needs to be a little more demanding in its guidelines as well? The idea situation for Google would be to have all of the Android smartphone manufacturers use pure Android with no personalized UI skins. The manufacturers claim that would take away from their own branding’s individuality. While this is understandable, to a degree, the physical design of the device is also a selling feature. Does Samsung really believe that they would have sold as many devices in 2016 without the dual-edge display, the S Pen, wireless charging, etc.? Many feel that stock Android needs more polish on it, and that third party UIs offer many options not found in stock Android but do they outweigh the fragmentation?

Google’s new Pixel and Pixel XL will have very little impact on Android’s fragmentation. As in the past, they will be the best and only way, to get the fastest Android updates. However, until Google exercises more of their leverage on other manufacturers, there will be no improvement in the Android ecosystem…and that is what this is all about. It would make it easier for manufacturers, developers, and customers. Switching from one Android device to another would have a small learning curve since they would all function the same way. Other manufacturers, such as Samsung, may work on their own OS (Tizen), but no competing mobile operating systems have come close to the popularity of Android and iOS. Google could be exercising more of their power. For instance, Google could limit where other manufacturers can make changes to the core software and make Google Services like Gmail and Hangouts the defaults. They could even limit the time it would take for manufacturers to upgrade the OS.

If you've paid any attention to the Android fragmentation, it has actually improved somewhat based on the chart below. The biggest three areas are Android 4.X Jelly Bean coming in at 15.6-percent, Android 4.4 KitKat at 27.7-percent, Android 5.X Lollipop with 35-percent, and Android 6.X Marshmallow at 18.7-percent – these figures are as of September 2016. The balance is made up from a little Froyo, Gingerbread, and Ice Cream Sandwich. Some of Google’s problems are that so many devices were sold in emerging nations, where users do not upgrade their devices very often causing much of the fragmentation.

It's possible that the new Google Pixel phones are a sign that Google is going to take more control with its brand. This takeover is something so large they cannot just do it overnight, but until Google can seize more control of the Android OS, their ecosystem will potentially always find it challenging to offer the same level of stability as iOS. For Goggle and Android to make a difference, they must eliminate most of the fragmentation. They need to sit down with the big companies and discuss their concerns and map out a future that first benefits Google and Android while helping the third party manufacturers keep some of their identity.

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Cory McNutt

Senior Staff Writer
Cory has written for Androidheadlines since 2013 and is a Senior Writer for the site. Cory has a background in Accounting and Finance and worked for the FBI in the past. From there he pursued his Masters in English Literature. Cory loves Android and Google related technology and specializes in Smartphone Comparisons on our site. Contact him at [email protected]
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