Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Android fragementation - Why it need not be fixed

Plenty of articles have been written in the past few months about fragmentation in the Android ecosystem. With the diverse choices of devices on the Android platform this was inevitable and many have called upon Google to fix the problem. I disagree. Google should simply let Android fragmentation run its course, and it will resolve itself.

T-Mobile G1 from Q4 2008. Mobile phone technology had gone a long way in three and a half years.

Displays. In the Android ecosystem, you have numerous manufacturers and component makers, coming put with hardware targeted at various price points. For example, with reference to displays. The original Android's had 3.2 inch 320 x 480 pixel resolution displays released in October 2008. By  November 2009 you would see the Motorola Milestone push up the size of the screen to 3.7-inches, sporting a 480 x 854 screen resolution. Each passing year has seen dramatic improvements in hardware and in 2012, the typical high end Android these days will have a screen larger than 4-inch and a 720p (720 x 1280) resolution.

At the same time, Android phones have been released with even smaller screens and lower resolution like the Samsung i5500 Galaxy 5 with a 2.8 screen and a 240 x 320 screen resolution which became available in August 2010.

This resulted in a situation where you have Android phones which have screen sizes ranging from 2.8-inches to 5.3 inches, with screen resolution running form 240 x 320 to  800 x 1280. But the dramatic improvements in hardware will start slowing down, and as cost of production decreases, lower end components will disappear from the shelf.

I expect by 2013 the devices with 240 x 320 pixel resolutions will no longer be made by any major manufacturer. At the same time I do not expect to see mobile phones with a higher than 720p (800 x 1280 or 800 x 1280) screen resolutions. Sure, someone may build one for bragging rights, but with 720p devices providing a 285 pixel per inch density even on 5.3-inch screens, no one will really notice another jump in screen resolution.

I do not expect screen sizes to continue increasing. You had the 5-inch Dell Streak and now have 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note, but even if technology eliminates the bezel on smartphones, I do not expect the largest mainstream phones go past 5-inches in display size.

As for display sizes, there is always a market for mini phones so I suspect phones with small screens will sill be made, but I do not expect to see any new releases next year with screens smaller than 3.2-inches.

 Processing power. At the same time we have seem processors jump from 528 MHz to 1 GHz, to dual core 1.5 GHz and now unto quad cores. Eventually, you will get to the point when faster processors are really only desired by power users (gamers I would think) with most of the market being happy with something than the cutting edge. On the other hand, the low end of the market will disappear. It wont be long before the slowest Android you can buy runs in a 1 GHz processor with 720 video recording and playback. Look at Sony's 2011 line-up, nothing only one phone slower than that.

Many application really wont take advantage of additional power. So we will have a situation like we do with personal computers today. The entry level units are good enough for most people and high powered computers are needed only by smaller niche markets. In the end, you only need so much power behind a 5-inch or so screen.

This will result in some degree of standardization, and as cost of hardware goes down, this trend to standardization will continue. But it will be a consumer market dictated standardization and not one tightly controlled by the operating system developer. Android is the only major operating system allowing this to happen. Best leave it be.

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