When Android was announced, I wrote that if "Google can deliver, the impact could be huge," but I caveated a major issue: Google would need to prevent the market from fragmenting and allow it to succeed where other mobile and desktop Linux implementations had failed. Linux fragmentation remains one of the many reasons the open-source OS has failed to capture a meaningful share of the PC desktop market, and Android is rapidly following a similar path by fragmenting into different versions with different core feature sets, different users experiences and run different applications.
It's not even clear what's part of the official Android distribution and what's been layered on by manufacturers to differentiate their phones. For example, the Droid runs a mostly stock version of Android 2.0 and partially supports Exchange Active Sync, a critical feature for business users. The Nexus One runs a stock version of Android 2.1, and has far more limited Exchange support with no ability to sync calendars. Other
I recently tried to install one of the few good Android games and found it won't work on Nexus One as it has a nonstandard screen resolution.
I know that last weekend at least one Android enthusiast site reported that Google has promised to get 2.1 on every Android device. Well, that's all well and good and smiles and rainbows, but an unverified blog post from some Android enthusiasts isn't exactly canon to me. Are there hardware issues that will prevent 2.1 running on older devices? Screen resolutions? I recently tried to install one of the few good Android games and found it won't work on Nexus One as it has a nonstandard screen resolution. This isn't just about older devices either -- many new devices were announced at Mobile World Congress running either Android 1.5 or 1.6. When does it end? Either Google addresses the fragmentation issue immediately or it will find that Android suffers the same fate as Linux on the desktop.
Michael Gartenberg is a partner at Altimeter Group. His weblog can be found at gartenblog.net. Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.