Android Fragmentation Visualized

The many faces of a little green robot

August, 2012

Fragmentation matters to the entire Android community: users, developers, OEMs, brands & networks. It's a blessing and a curse.

The Blessing. Fragmentation allows users to take their pick from thousands of devices. You can choose from phones with 3D screens, projectors, CDMA, GSM, or even CDMA & GSM. You may not care that Tag Heuer has made an Android phone but at least one person does (and they use OpenSignalMaps). It's a triumph for Android that as a single OS it can target so many markets.

The Curse. The proliferation of devices with their associated screen sizes, internal hardware and custom ROMs creates some difficulties. We spend a lot of time making the app presentable (or at less functional) on exotic devices - this is the most common request we get from app users.

The Study. Over the past 6 months we've been logging the new devices that download OpenSignalMaps, we've based this study on 681,900 of these devices. We've looked at model, brand, API level (i.e. the version of Android) and screen size and we've tried to present this in the clearest form we can.

Some of the Android devices we use to test OpenSignalMaps

Model

We've spotted 3997 distinct devices. It comes as no suprise that the GT-i9100 (the Galaxy SII) is the most popular - with 61,389 users downloading OSM in the last 6 months.

One complication is that custom ROMs can overwrite the android.build.MODEL variable that we use for the device model. This partly explains why a staggering 1363 device models appear only once in our database. That said most of these are indeed genuine devices, just not popular ones. Some examples of these solitary devices include: the Concorde Tab (a hungarian 10.1 inch device), the Lemon P1 (a dual SIM Indian phone), the Energy Tablet i724 (a Spanish Tablet aimed at home entertainment), the EBEST E68, the MASTONE W18.

Brand

Android brands are almost as fragmented as device models, indicating just how much easier it has become to source electronics. We spotted 599 distinct brands - though again some will be artefacts of custom ROMs.

Some highlights: 2 tablets have been spotted sporting the ill-fated FusionGarage brand, 7 with Polaroid's smart-camera. We also came across some 200 by Marvell which we presumed was a type-o for Marvel (the comic book publisher who also released an Android tablet), in fact Marvell is a seperate technology company who do a line in Android devices, just one small example of the confusion caused by such brand diversity (thanks to Trent for pointing this out).

The clear winner is Samsung again with 270,144 devices - or 40% of the market as seen by us.

API Level

API level - or Android version (e.g. Gingerbread, Gingerbread revision 1, ICE Cream Sandwich) has become more fragmented over time. This seems natural as older Android version tend to hang around.

Nevertheless it's surprising how little change there has been, 2.3 (Gingebread) was the dominant version 1 year ago, now it's 2.3.3+ which is a revision of 2.3.3 with various bug fixes and minimal changes to the APIs (i.e. few new features for developers to tap into, though NFC and Voice Recognition were added). Note also, one year ago the top two Android versions accounted for 90% of devices now it's closer to 75% - a challenge for developers.

Resolution

Each point represents a particular resolution e.g 480*800, note the constancy of the line that represents the most common aspect ratio 5:3.

A little bit of coding - we did this in Android - yields a graphic that better illustrates these configurations.

image

Scale 2:7

Weighting them by frequency highlights the popular ones:

image

With iPad and iPhone things are rather simpler:

image

<3 Fragmentation?

Developers tend to bemoan Android fragmentation yet there's much here to be celebrated.

We've collected signal data from 195 countries - the variety of Android devices and manufacturers has been crucial in allowing the OS to reach so many markets. For example the 5 countries where OSM gets most use are: US, Brazil, China, Russia, Mexico. From what we're seeing the developing world is no longer developing but leading Europe.

While the number of different models running Android will continue to increase we've seen Samsung take the lion's share of the Android market, most of that due to the Galaxy product line. Testing on the most popular Samsung & HTC devices will get you a long way.

API and screen fragmentation is probably going to get worse. Android has, however, shown committment to make it easier to target multiple screen sizes - by introducing the (perhaps ironically named) fragments APIs in 2011 which makes it easier to turn view elements into modules.

One of the joys of developing for Android is you have no idea who'll end up using your app.

With many devices under $100 unsubsidized, Android phones and tablets are able to reach a market that can't afford netbooks. For the majority of the world's population smartphones (and not computers) will be the must-have devices. We hope that OpenSignalMaps will be a must-have app.

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