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I like Android a lot. It’s Linux’s biggest end-user success story. Android has great applications. Moreover, Android’s smartphone market-share is growing fast. Eventually Android will become the number one smartphone operating system in the world. If, that is, everything goes right.

Android’s biggest worry is not the iPhone, the Blackberry, or Windows Phone 7; it is that it will fragment into multiple incompatible, brand-specific versions. With a large number of custom versions of the Android platform emerging, the concern is that interoperability will be weakened because of the potential for applications built specifically for one variant or device not being able to work with others.

You see, all the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), like Motorola and HTC put their own software, Sense UI and Motoblur respectively, on top of Android. Then, all the carriers add their own special-sauce of applications. It can get messy.

If the makers of the number one mobile game in the world are concerned, it’s a real concern. It’s not just a scary story for baby programmers.

Android: in pieces?

If there's one complaint you hear about Google's Android platform, it is about fragmentation. It happens at the device level, the OS level, with the UI, and even with specific apps and services some carriers or manufacturers use. There are plusses and minuses to all of these, and it looks like Google has lost control, ceding the problems to the licensees. Google has almost lost control of Android and has zero chance of regaining it. Android has become something that is independent of Google.

Well there are five axes of fragmentation: Device, OS, User Interface, Marketplace and Services.

For a mobile platform, a different degree of fragmentation can exist along each of these axes. For example, Apple's iOS platform has almost no fragmentation along the Marketplace axis because Apple has been so hardcore about ensuring that the iTunes marketplace is the only marketplace supported. A relatively small amount of fragmentation on the User Interface axis exists because Apple has been extremely consistent with UI. Likewise, there is a bit of device fragmentation in iOS due to different generations of iPhones having different hardware capabilities (such as a front-facing camera).

The fragmentation of Android is severe, across all of these axes, regardless of how Google’s Eric Schmidt tries to spin it. In addition, because of the complexity of the mobile ecosystem (and the other ecosystems Android is part of), the effect is more multiplicative than additive.

Google's options: Google has some tactics that it might try (is trying) to use to rein in fragmentation. Like investing in the Nexus brand as Nexus is Google's "pure" Android play, Holding Back Access to the Latest Version of Android. However, none of these will have a significant impact; in fact, most will make fragmentation worse.

If you do not feel so good about so called fragmentation, check out - Google TV. Remember, Android is not just about mobile…

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