Android Fragmentation: Getting Worse All The Time

You might think that Samsung's dominance of the Android ecosystem would make Android's long-time nemesis, fragmentation, better. But you would be wrong.

A recent set of visualizations from OpenSignal captures this point well. Yes, Samsung controls 47.5% of the Android market. With this in mind, the Android market looks like it's coalescing around a few (read: one) dominant vendor, which would expect to reduce fragmentation:

Credit: OpenSignal Credit: OpenSignal

But this brand-level view is deceptive. Even with Samsung dominating the landscape, Android fragmentation is accelerating, if anything. In 2012 there were 3,997 different Android devices on the market. In 2013 that number has nearly tripled to 11,868. 

Here's a look at Android device fragmentation in July 2012:

Credit: OpenSignal Credit: OpenSignal

And here's July 2013:

Credit: OpenSignal Credit: OpenSignal

Pretty as these visualizations are, it's not surprising developers continue to prefer Apple's somewhat staid device and OS line-up. Limited, great choices for consumers add up to expansive, great choices for developers. In a recent report, VisionMobile found that iOS is selected more frequently than average by developers that value revenue potential (+12%), graphics (+7%), app discovery (+8%) and user reach (+10%).

On the one hand, it's easy to say "Who cares?", given Android's continued upward trend in market share. After all, broad fragmentation means that everyone can get an Android device that is a close fit for their particular needs. Long live the Long Tail!

But fragmentation is only going to get worse, as emerging market, no-name vendors bludgeon Samsung's market share with low-cost devices. And as cartoonist Hugh MacLeod once detailed, as much as we may like to glorify the Long Tail, it hasn't worked out very well in practice. It turns out that both consumers and developers really like Short Tail products and economics. The Android ecosystem should pay attention.