Fragmentation Fears

Managing Development for Multiple Android Devices

There has been a recent upswing in blog posts and the like regarding fragmentation of the Android platform. People see a widening range of devices, from HTC going with a resistive touchscreen for the Tattoo, to Motorola's CLIQ with a D-pad instead of a trackball, to the 5” WVGA screen of the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. This raises concerns, particularly in people who witnessed the problems that JavaME experienced with platform fragmentation. The fear is that in spite of the larger market for devices that such fragmentation brings, it may wreak havoc upon third-party developers.Those fears are reasonable. However, here are a few reasons why I do not expect quite the problem with Android that we saw with JavaME:

  1. Android is a richer platform to begin with, making it easier for Android to offer frameworks to help manage varying hardware. Those frameworks could be supplied by Android (e.g., the resources framework for selecting UI layouts on the fly based on device capabilities) or written by third parties.
  2. Android will tend to run on faster devices than did JavaME in its heyday, meaning the aforementioned frameworks will not necessarily slow things to an unbearable level.
  3. Android has a formalized system for vendor-specific add-ons — witness Motorola leveraging that add-on system for their CLIQ and its four-way screen rotation. This will help steer device manufacturers to make their departures from the norm better supported for developers.
  4. The Android emulator already has a rich mechanism to emulate devices with a wide range of hardware capabilities.
  5. The core Android team seems to be actively learning from and attempting to avoid the pitfalls that befell JavaME (and, to a lesser extent, Windows Mobile). One example is the filtering system they have developed, to help Android devices and the Android Market screen out applications that definitively will not run on the user's device.

This does not mean that the future is all peaches and cream. There will be a fair bit of developer angst over each fresh departure from what has gone on before, such as the current concerns over QVGA (Tattoo) and WVGA (Archos) screens. However, I feel that Android has as good a chance as any mobile platform of solving, or at least managing, the fragmentation issue.

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