What Google needs to do to fix Android fragmentation
Android attracts a large amount of criticism for being a fragmented platform. Ice Cream Sandwhich still only accounts for 5.1% of all devices more than 7 months from release. Froyo, a version released in May of 2010 still accounts for just over 20% of devices. It's pretty ridiculous that a fifth of devices running Android haven't had major software upgrade in just on two years. Almost all of these devices are capable and have been abandoned.
As technology lovers, we're always interested in the latest and greatest. We crave new updates and new hardware, and so naturally we're frustrated when updates aren't pushed to our devices in a timely manner (if ever). But an oft cited reason for the lack of fast updates is that most consumers don't really want updates. Most people are perfectly happy with how their phones operate, and pushing a major update such as ICS can disturb this tranquillity and lead to consumer backlash. Hence, we get lumped with the abomination that is ICS on the Galaxy SII. Skinned to the point where you can barely even make out it's ICS.
But not updating is definitely the greater of two evils. Software updates bring bug fixes, new features, enhancements, and in the case of ICS a major UI overhauls that enhance user satisfaction, experience and usability. ICS is an extremely coherent and polished OS when compared to Gingerbread, and regardless of manufacturer skins, this is an update that everyone should receive.
The question is: why are consumers scared of updates?
The answer is that people are naturally scared of change. People don't care what new feature something has. If it's different and it means significant effort to relearn how to perform basic tasks on their device, then it can't possibly be favourable.
How did we develop in to a society that drags it's heel on change? What happened to the hacker culture the relished in tinkering and modifying and newness and fun and being on the forefront? Part of it is the widespread adoption of these technologies, and the lowering of barrier to entry. But part of it is that we've been trained to only receive incremental updates.
Every version of Windows since 95 has had a similar look and feel. This will change with Windows 8, but for the past 16 we've had basically no change in the way that the dominant desktop computing environment functions. The same can be said for OSX.
Browsers haven't changed much either. Yes, we've moved from Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer to Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and many others. But the address bar is still up the top, you still have favourites, a back button, a forward button, a home button, a stop button and a refresh button. The UI and the operation is the same.
Finally, a similar argument can be made for mobile phones. Granted, the UI began to change rapidly as we approached the smartphone era, but there was no such thing as getting an OS upgrade over the air and having a completely new interface.
And so we arrive at the million dollar question. How do we fix it?
We need to get users excited about change (again).
This isn't something that is going to happen overnight. It needs to be a concerted effort from all members of the technology sector. Don't be afraid to change things up. Why should UIs stagnate for years at a time?
Add giant splash screens every single time an update occurs. Make it optional, but the majority of users will see it and if you make it colorful and interesting, people will take notice. Move things around in your windows. Rebrand, redesign and refresh and you'll move the average technology consumer to demand updates to their devices.
Note: I chose to concentrate one part of what I believe is causing the issue of fragmentation. I'm aware that there are a host of other issues, but this is what popped into my head this afternoon.