Let’s not confuse Android fragmentation with hard disk fragmentation or any other storage problems. The hard disk fragmentation – as most of you know – are bits of files spread all over the storage device thereby making it difficult for any operating system to gather the bits and present it to you. Android fragmentation is more related to difference among the Android versions and the apps’ version running on the device.
Android Fragmentation Definition
The closest definition of Android fragmentation that I found on the Internet was at Techopedia, “Android fragmentation refers to a concern over the alarming number of different available Android operating system (OS) versions in the market. The main issue is potentially reduced interoperability between devices of applications coded using the Android Software Development Kit (Android SDK)“.
Android Fragmentation Problem
The above definition of Android covers it all but employs a little heavy language. In simple terms, there are minimum of three versions of Android running on different machines – at any given point of time. Right now, JellyBean and Ice Cream are most popular while Honeycomb is still in the market.
Likewise, the applications developed for Android are for different versions. Programmers who develop apps do so for the latest version. This creates a problem of incompatibility due to which some Android users cannot use those applications. Among other problems is exploitation of the phone data using malicious software written for older Android versions.
Talking about software developed for Android, we can also assume the phone software through which Google delivers Android updates. If phone software is developed for Android 4.0, chances are high it won’t support apps designed for use with Android 4.2. The following chart from TruTower shows the percentage of Androids in market as in May 2013.
Another aspect is that with every machine comes customization. If you are using a LG phone, you will get a customized Android experience: one that the LG wants to offer you. The same operating system (Android) will give you a different experience on a Samsung phone or tablet as Samsung will customize it for their devices. Among these customization, the uniformity of Android is somewhat lost (For example, the menus and options may differ).
In other words, it is the problem of difference in versions of apps, basic phone software and Android. This difference can be misused by people to break into your phone or tablet. Thus, Android Fragmentation Problem is actually more of a security and privacy issue than just incompatibility.
How Does Google Address Android Fragmentation
According to Trend Micro , Google pushes the updates to phone manufacturers. Then, it becomes the responsibility of phone manufacturers to upgrade their phone software so that your device is protected. However, the pace with which Android is updated is much higher compared to the updates by device manufacturers. This is what creates the problem that may lead to malfunctioning or usage inability for latest versions of apps.
Here is a chart from Trend Micro that explains the process of Android Updates. Trend Micro also makes it clear that older machines are stuck with previous versions of Android that cannot be updated and hence cannot use the newer, better apps available in Play.
It further states that the Android Fragmentation Problem may invite malicious software as the older versions of Android do not have sufficient protection and thus, are vulnerable to exploitation.
Incompatibility of apps with the version of Android operating system on your machine leads to Android Fragmentation Problem. Though Google is able to address the problem, it has to depend on third party (device manufacturers) for making the updates available to the end users. Right now, there is no way Google can directly update the operating system on individual machines.
Due to this problem, not only application malfunctions may occur, your device is prone to malicious exploitations. To stay safe
- Update your phone software regularly
- Use good mobile security products. There are free ones available as well – such as Norton Mobile and Trend Micro
Want to see how Microsoft makes money from Android?
 Techopedia, Definition of Android Fragmentation
 TruTower, Google’s Latest Distribution Chart
 Trend Micro, Updating Android On Devices.