Inherent to Android is a world of phones and tablets in different sizes, using different technology, and with different features and sensors. While that's led to fragmentation issues that can make life harder for developers, it's also led to a wealth of interesting hardware, with manufacturers competing to be the best at both budget and premium prices. Over the past several years, that landscape has continued to shift. Sure, Samsung may still be the biggest name around, but there are now a huge number of small manufacturers that have thrown their hats in the ring.
For the fourth year in a row, OpenSignal, which makes an app that maps wireless signal coverage, has mapped out the state of Android to show what that immense world of phones, screen sizes, and operating system versions looks like. It's worth keeping in mind that this data comes from people who download OpenSignal's app, who may not be perfectly representative of the entire market — people in certain areas or with certain phones could be more or less likely to use the app; the Play Store also isn't available in China, which limits data from a massive market. Still, it's representative of how at least one developer sees the Android world.
When you look at OpenSignal's device fragmentation map (above), the state of Android looks terrifying. There are more phones than ever, and the devices come from all over. OpenSignal now counts over 24,000 distinct Android devices, up from closer to 12,000 back in 2013. A separate map, which breaks the chart down by brand, makes the ecosystem a lot more comprehensible.
Most of the phones and tablets continue to be made by Samsung, which accounted for 37.8 percent of the Android devices seen by OpenSignal during its sample period. That's actually a step down for Samsung, which made up 43 percent of the market when OpenSignal first published its data in 2012.
No other manufacturer is even relatively close in size to Samsung. OpenSignal found Sony to be the closest runner up, representing 4.8 percent of phones and tablets. Following Sony are the companies you'd expect: LG, Motorola, and HTC. Chinese manufacturers including Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE, and Xiaomi also have a notable presence on the chart. OpenSignal says it found Xiaomi to be the top brand in China, followed by Samsung.
What's really starting to change this chart isn't the rise of big competitors to Samsung — it's the rise of hundreds of small ones. OpenSignal says that it's now seeing 1,294 distinct manufacturers. Over 1,000 of those weren't around when OpenSignal first started tracking this data in 2012 either (although, some manufacturers that were around in 2012 have also vanished, so the increase isn't quite that steep).
Those small manufacturers have also been able to make the Android landscape a lot more exciting. OnePlus is a prime example: it didn't exist two years ago, and now it's making some of the more exciting phones out there. Of course, those small manufacturers are still just blips on the overall radar. The most popular phones are still from Samsung — the three-year-old Galaxy S III has kept its lead, with models of the S4 and S5 behind it — followed by cheaper phones, like the Nexus 5 and the Moto G.
While having more companies out there making Android phones may seem like trouble for developers, there may be a reason that complaints of fragmentation have died down. Use of Android has started to center around its most recent versions: just over 57 percent of devices were found to be on KitKat or later; 91 percent of devices were using Jelly Bean or later. That's nowhere near as good as the situation with iOS, which has its latest version running on 85 percent of active devices, but it's a positive sign. OpenSignal says it's seen a "slight reduction in fragmentation over the past year," with market share rising for the dominant Android API (KitKat).
This is only a single developer's view of Android, but it's some insight into the current ecosystem. Samsung may still be dominant, old versions of Android may still have a large share, but things are changing. Newer versions of Android are growing, and while the hundreds of small manufacturers that have popped up may be blips on their own, their combined presence is starting to make a dent.