Counterpoint: fragmentation won't destroy Android after all

The common belief -- and a belief we've generally shared here at Engadget -- is that Google's breakneck pace of development and lackadaisical stance toward heavily-customized versions of Android is slowly undermining the platform from the inside out. Handset manufacturers simply aren't used to the concept of two or more major revisions of an operating system in the span of 12 months, and it's got the potential to wreak havoc; there's probably no better example of this than HTC's Sense, where many of the world's Hero owners continue to plod along on Android 1.5 to this very day. Ultimately, this means that different Android users have access to different subsets of features and applications -- and looking at the big picture, it could mean that potential buyers are going to be subject to more paralysis at the sales counter than they'd be knowing that they've got a more futureproof device in their hands. Theoretically, anyway.

Thing is, even as Android becomes more fragmented, it's also becoming more of a consumer product. Gone are the days when the ultra-geeky G1 was your only ticket to ride; now you've got dozens of choices, including high-end, heavily-marketed phones on American carriers like the Droid Incredible, Backflip, myTouch 3G Slide, and EVO 4G. What that means is that carriers and manufacturers are both successfully turning the conversation away from the platform, the technology, and the politics of Android -- subjects that your average phone buyer couldn't possibly care less about -- and turning it toward things that actually sell devices in volume: sex appeal, speed, and easy access to services like Facebook and Twitter.

This phenomenon was demonstrated for us this week on the Engadget Mobile podcast, where our special guest (and podcast producer) Trent Wolbe -- a guy who isn't the unabashed phone nerd that I am -- told us on no uncertain terms that the lack of Froyo on the EVO 4G at launch is a complete non-issue for him. It makes sense: if a phone does everything you need it to do, and it does those things extraordinarily well, who really cares? Well, as technology writers, it's easy for us to care (in fact, it's our job to care) and to get swept up in the notion that having the latest and greatest is absolutely critical to our enjoyment of a product, but in reality, your average EVO 4G buyer might not even know what Android 2.2 is, much less understand why he or she should want it.

We're not advocating that HTC and others slack off on keeping up with Google, of course -- or that Google shouldn't consider slowing down a smidge as Android's core matures -- but there's definitely an argument to be made that we're all going to enjoy the cream of this year's Android crop, Froyo / Gingerbread or otherwise.