Motorola: Why Android fragmentation is good

Despite developer concerns, the company sees variation as a benefit because it allows for customization of devices

Motorola Mobility, which has made the Google Android platform the centerpiece of its mobile technology strategy, has heard developer and customer concerns about Android fragmentation and systems not all behaving the same. But the company sees variation as beneficial rather than a hindrance, a Motorola Mobility official said on Tuesday.

Variation is seen as a value of Android products, said Christy Wyatt, corporate vice president at Motorola Mobility, at the AnDevCon Android developer conference in San Mateo, Calif. Some customers, for example, love the features Motorola puts in the Droid smartphone family. But she acknowledged developer concerns. "Managing differentiation against fragmentation is kind of a delicate balance," Wyatt said.

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An example of differentiation developers face in Motorola Mobility's systems involves the Xoom tablet and Atrix 4G. Released within a week of each other early this year, the systems use different interfaces for common features such as setting up email.

Testing and certification programs do a good job of keeping APIs and implementations consistent, Wyatt said. Except for Google Experience Devices, such as the Xoom, Motorola's devices launched beginning late last year have the same baseline of features, but there are some UI changes and customization from telecommunications operators, Wyatt said. She encouraged developers to test applications across devices, although she added Android is "smarter" about rendering on different screens.

A developer at AnDevCon acknowledged differentiation in Android systems. "Different device manufacturers are modifying the Android operating system to their liking," making such changes as modifying the UI, said Marek Szany, developer with Eset, in Slovakia. Android itself features version 2.4, for mobile devices, and 3.0, or Honeycomb, for tablets, he said. "We have to deal [with fragmentation]. We have no choice," he said. Eset develops security applications for Android systems, Szany said.

Motorola Mobility also does not see commoditization of Android systems as a problem, Wyatt said. There is variation between Motorola Mobility Android systems and those of other vendors, she said.

Wyatt stressed Motorola Mobility's commitment to Android, with the company basing its entire smartphone platform on Android. "You don't enter into an ecosystem like Android unless you are confident of your ability to compete," she said. But Android still needs work as far as the ability to monetize applications. Developers have said Android needs improvements in functions like discovery and single-touch transactions, she said.

Also at the conference, Black Duck Software announced availability of Android Fast Start, a bundled software and service offering intended to help developers simplify the operational challenges of managing Android projects. With Fast Start, Black Duck manages governance and compliance for Android development. Android is an open source project composed of more than 165 components, 80,000 files, and 2GB of code under 19 licenses, Black Duck said.

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