Why the missing device fragmentation is hurting the iPhone

For ages I have been hearing the argument that Android is suffering from the fact that Android devices come in all different sizes and configurations and that this fragmentation is making the success of Android really difficult. Of course fragmentation makes development life a little bit more challenging but I think the argumentation is missing a key point.

Customers want to have choice. Or in other words: everyone want to be special. Some people want to have huge phones, others want really small ones, etc.

By offering a “one device fits all” solution Apple is ignoring the desire of the customer to get a different device that everyone else.

I personally think that the missing fragmentation of the iPhone is one of the reasons why Android is currently so successful.

So I hope Apple changes soon its strategy and offers different devices types. Otherwise I think the marketshare of the iPhone will continue to shrink.

About Lars Vogel

Lars Vogel is the founder and CEO of the vogella GmbH and works as Eclipse and Android consultant, trainer and book author. He is a regular speaker at international conferences, He is the primary author of vogella.com. With more than one million visitors per month this website is one of the central sources for Java, Eclipse and Android programming information.
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13 Responses to Why the missing device fragmentation is hurting the iPhone

  1. Kiran Rao says:

    I agree with both your observations.

    1. Let’s not be diplomatic about this: Android fragmentation does make life a hell lot difficult for an Android developer.

    2. Having said that the beauty of the system is again: Choice. Not only for the end user but even for the *developer*

    You choose what percentage of the installed base you want to target and then accordingly invest development time to address fragmentation!
    Contrast this to iOS where there’s absolutely no choice. None for the developer, none for the user.

    And oh, we’re just talking about phones and tablets yet. Things get a lot more interesting when we see how people have been customizing Android: right from WIMM to smart microwave ovens.

  2. moritan says:

    It’s something i don’t understand when you’re doing a desktop app you have to deal with several resolution and sçreen size same for a website. A developper who say have the same screen and resolution as mine or my app won’t works should statut with Apple. He won’t survive in real world

  3. christian campo says:

    I dont agree at all but I admit that I am a Apple fan boy so I am biased.

    In my opinion the different configurations and size makes the development work not a little but a whole lot difficult (we also do Android development, not me personally but collegues). Its hard to test 20 or more configurations and it happens often that you download a working Android app and for some reason it just does not work on your device.

    The beauty of the homogenity of Apple is that every iPhone app works on every device give or take a few very old devices or if they just cant get the newsest iOS on your device.

    I think Android is more popular, because its a lot cheaper to buy and I admit the hardware can do the same as Apple’s and more.

    But being an Android developer can be tough. For example the EclipseCon App that Peter Friese is doing at one stage wouldnt work on the Android phone of Ekke. It was a hard time figuring out why.

  4. Lars Vogel says:

    @Christian: You looking at the thing from a developer perspective and not from a user perspective. The user don’t care about developer complexity just about choices, if the choices are great and good looking.

  5. I don’t completely agree with your observations either but I have to say I don’t consider myself as an Apple fanboy. It’s not a secret I spend a lot of time promoting Android via my blog, open-source librairies, giving talks, etc. but I prefer considering myself as an objective and impartial developer/user.

    So let’s talk about why I am not okay with this analysis. You are right when saying people want choice and want to be special. However you are only talking about the hardware point of view. The software point of view is also important and this is were Apple let the user choose. For instance, you can personalize your iPhone installing the applications you want, changing the background, etc. Of course, Apple have a way more restrictive point of view but user still have the choice. The fact Apple is so restrictive is a way to ensure consistency among applications and devices which results in having better-looking and easier to use applications.

    Put simple, always keep in mind, Apple always gives choice to its users even if it looks like a prison to an Android user. This restricted choice let people personalize their device while still having a cohesive and consistent environment … something Android fails sometimes to me mind:
    – On hardware: color of the iPhone, model, color of the bumper, etc.
    – On software: applications, wallpapers, etc.

    This consistency makes also greater applications. The fact a phone-dedicated application works on a tablet simply by stretching layouts is something bad to my mind. It completely waste user experience. On the other side, the Apple, with the iPad used a different strategy by pixel-doubling the screen. The result is blurry, indeed but at least the application remains a phone-application as the developer and designer intended it.

    To conclude, both sides are great. Android is probably too permissive to my mind regarding fragmentation while Apple is probably to strict. I think Google have been and is still working hard on making Android greater from a user perspective. Apple, on the other hand is also working on improving iOS so that it can adapt itself to different devices.

  6. Till Klocke says:

    The customisation of the iPhone is very limited compared to what is possible on Android. Especially on the software side Android is much more customisable. This makes inconsistencies in the Experience possible. But even on Apple hardware I see inconsitencies very often. Ever saw an iOS user try a new app? Very often they try several multitouch gestures to see if they are supported, also the position of UI-Elements is less consistens then everyone things. I saw back buttons on all four screen corners on iOS.
    But again, the possibility of inconsistency and the great amount of individualisation is great advantage since it enables vendors and developers experiment. Just think about Samsung Smart Stay On feature. Or test the app “Tasker”. I wouldn’t use my phone without it.
    The walled garden of Apple is not only a question of less choice for developers and users, but also a problem for innovators. Just think back to augmented reality apps. They started on Android, because Apple wouldn’t let developers use the camera API in every way possible. When Layar was finally launched on iOS, the app wikitude was already over a year old on Android. But that is only one example how Apple fails to encurage real innovation.

  7. I think you are right. I wonder if Apple really cares. After all only this way, they can argue to be special and to require a premium. There is a reason for their large margins.

    There is one thing though where this one device (and one dock – though this might change given the recent rumors) approach has serious advantages: You get a lot of accessories for the iPhone but way less for Android phones. Maybe for the S II or the S III but for others – very few. And this is bad for the customer and – I guess – one of the reasons to choose an iOS device over an Android-device. This reminds me a bit about the situation Linux was in years ago. Hope this one changes for Android as well.

  8. Mur Votema says:

    Actually I’m an android user (and developer too), buuuuuut …

    I think, the user still has choise. If he / she doesn’t like the size / color / etc. of the iPhone he / she can buy an android device.

    As customer I prefer stability, which Apple gives to the iPhone users. They get updates for their devices (also for old devices) instead of android update policy.

    So I’m thinking very often to buy an iPhone and not an android device next.

    [Lars: Thanks for the tip, typo is fixed]

  9. Maxim Zaks says:

    I strongly disagree :)

    First I should out my self as an apple fanboy. Although I may have a different view on the hole fanboy stuff.

    So why do I disagree “strongly”.
    I disagree because in my opinion Apple and Google has different philospohies and also different focus groups.

    Apple understands itself as a technical advisor.
    If you are starting a relationship with Apple, Apple will advise you how to use the technology. They will share there experience with you and if you trust there expertise you mostly won’t be disappointed. I guess that’s why customer often develop a personal relationship with Apple, which is mostly called by the outsiders as “fanboyship” or a cult.
    So back to the fragmentation thing. Imagine you go to your financial advisor, because you want to invest 20.000 €, and he will just list up all possibilities that are on the market. You will feel confused. An advisor should be opinionated. He should present you with a little bit of choice. If you don’t trust his judgment you go to another advisor or try to do finance by your self.

    Same thing with Apple, if you buy an “i” product you have to trust Apple, because they will do very opinionated choices. And most of the choices will be in favor of the consumer, because otherwise they will betray the trust and that’s something they cannot afford, as best friends can become worst enemies very fast.

    Now what is the Google philosophy?
    Google has this for developers by developers mentality.
    Android is not build for the end users, it is build for mobile phone manufactures.
    (Or hardware manufactures in general)

    The manufactures may use Android as they want. So the fragmentation is a nice puzzle for Google, but enormous problem for the end user. As every innovation Google brings in, goes directly past end users, because they cannot update there phones.

    The open platform becomes a pretty close product. And as third party developer you are confronted with OS fragmentation and the fact that you have to build up you app legacy conform with progressive content or some other techniques.

    Why this problem doesn’t bother Google that much?
    Well there are certainly many answers to this question. I think that the main answer is because Google is mostly interested in data. And data will flow indifferent if you are running Android 1, 2, 3, or 4.

  10. Then maybe Apple should do the following:

    – Make its system open source
    – Allow 3rd party companies to manufacture phones that run on iOS
    – Make development on iOS a lot more simpler
    – Accept that there will be designs that are not perfect from Apple’s geeks point of view

  11. LEKO says:

    This eternal debate…

    There is one thing many Apple fans don’t want to see or hear, is the way Apple fragment their praised platform. Apple deliberately remove/cripple or deactivate features from their devices. So yes, in the about screen you can read iOS 5, but in fact, many features are missing if you do not have their latest hardware. It’s marketing, the users thinks they have the latest software, when in fact, they just get part of it. The best example of this is WiFi tethering. An iPhone 3GS can do it, but Apple don’t want their users to do it.

    Another example: why Apple users can’t use certain features when in 3G/4G, like Facetime or HD video playback? As a user, if I want to do it while I’m not on WiFi, it’s my choice. I pay for the data plan, not Apple.

    Now, back to software fragmentation… Why does some (a lot) of people are so intense about it? Why in the world the mobile world should be different than the connected/desktop world? Applications developers always developed and adapted for many platform and many platform version. Apple, Linux and Windows on the desktop have different software versions and a ton of different hardware configurations. Developers are dealing with it without crying. They develop, that’s it!

    And from the users point of view: they use! Users are using! And serious developers are making sure their apps will work for their users no matter the platform. Have you ever used 1st class Android applications? They are gorgeous and intuitive with very nice UI, not iOS copy or ports. These developers knows if they offer a very good Android experience, users will keep using their apps, the same stands for Apple iOS.

    By the way, when you install the Android SDK and want to create a new application, Google is kind enough to suggest you to use the API level of Android 2.2, which covers more than 90% of the active devices on the market, not that bad for a fragmented platform.

  12. Marvin Hoffmann says:

    On the one hand I agree. People want to have something special, and want to express their selfes in as many ways as possible, even if it is the different screen size of their phones.

    On the other hand I disagree. You can see, that the “success of Android” ist mostly the success of Samsung and its Galaxy series. They are very famous and the attract a lot of customers. But there is now difference between all the S3 or all the S2 customers, so “being unique” can’t be the decisive factor.

    I also disagree in terms of developer friendliness. Android programming is just a huge pain in the a* if you want to support as much phones as possible.

    And last but not least, I really don’t want my iPhone grow a lot bigger. It’s just the perfect size in my opinion. For me, it’s less about screen size, the the quality of the screen, and I think we all agree, that the retina display is just incredible!

  13. Lars Vogel says:

    @Mavin: If you have access to one, try using the S3 for a week and than try to return to the iPhone….

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