Monday, 28 November 2011

iOS fragmentation - Is it worse than Android's?

How do we define fragmentation?

This is what fragmentation (frgmn-tshn) actually means:
The scattering of parts of a computer file across different regions of a disk. Fragmentation occurs when the operating system breaks up the file and stores it in locations left vacant by previously deleted files. The more fragmented the file, the slower it is to retrieve, since each piece of the file must be identified and located on the disk.

Below we will try to explain the FUD term propagated by Steve Jobs and spread by Apple fans that also have a very vague idea of it's meaning.

  • the inability to update the OS because of the manufacturer?
  • the user's choice not to update?
  • the coexistence of multiple app stores?
  • exclusive apps?
  • different hardware configurations?

So let's start with updates

    If we are to consider updates as the sole factor in fragmentation, we would certainly be wrong. Both Android and iOS can run the same Apps. Forcing partial updates like iOS 4 on iPhone 3G and 3GS has lowered the device performance considerably while still not bringing the same features iPhone 4 had. Apple might have reduced fragmentation in statistics, but it has decreased user experience by making 3G and 3GS laggy devices.

So how are iPhone updates doing in 2011?
According to statistics, not too well. So far iOS 5 is only on 38% of all iPhones:

"According to Chitika Insights, one month after release, the new OS is on 38 percent of iPhones, 30 percent of iPads and 12 percent of iPod Touch.
iOS5 distribution in 2011
 The firm uses mobile ad network impressions to analyze traffic."

In comparison, Android's latest major distribution for Phones 2.x.x is spread across 95% of the devices, and the latest subversion, Gingerbread or 2.3.x is spread across 38.2% of the devices.

We should also mention that Android has a market share or 52.5% while Apple has a market of ~15%. Given the fact that there are 443 unique Android devices released and only 7 iPhones, I'd say Apple's closed eco-system idea is doing a lot worse in the real world than it did on paper.

Apps and AppStores

    In a recent discussion, with a fellow blogger, Prasad, on GSMArena, we tackled the fragmentation issue by app availability and app stores. He wasn't pleased about the existence of multiple stores for Android and the fact that, specifically Amazon, is holding up exclusive offers on a lot of countries where it isn't yet available.
    Well how is the Apple Appstore doing, in this type of "fragmentation" compared to android?
  • Apple's AppStore was only accessible to US and a few European countries at launch
  • Apple's AppStore just got accessible to 33 new countries this year.
  • Cydia - a user made AppStore with no guaranteed security, made for apps rejected by Apple - only available for those who jailbreak
  • Carriers. Vodafone has their own 360 People Sync and navigation app - only available to Vodafone users
   So is there such a big difference in App availability on iOS and Android? Should we even note the fact that Cydia will never make it's way onto iPhones that aren't jail broken? Let's give Amazon a chance, I'm sure it will make it's way in all countries as did Apple's App store and the Google Market.
   For me, on iOS, it's certainly a big deal if jailbreaks are late. I have to chose between updating and losing access to Cydia and possibly some of my favorite apps. Apple's own strict policy seems to be one of the very reasons for fragmentation.
   How about exclusive updates? iPhone 3G will never get multi-tasking, GameCenter, iPhone 3GS and 4 will never get SIRI. Besides questioning the status of the update (how can you call it iOS4 or 5 when it doesn't have the same features?), what happens to apps that depend on GameCenter or multi-tasking? What happens to Apps that depend on SIRI?

Devices and configurations

Some users think fragmentation means different hardware. I think different hardware means variety, and variety is a good thing.
  • Windows 7 PC runs right now on few billion different configurations. Variety doesn't mean fragmentation.
  • Out of 400 Android configurations at least a few dozen are identical.
  • Out of 7 iPhone models I can't find 2 devices with the same hardware.
    And then there’s the display. Making a universal binary of a game that we want to work on the iPad, the iPhone 3GS, and of course the iPhone 4. All three devices have different resolutions. The same thing happens on Android with the mini devices (240 x 320), the regular smartphones (800x480) and tablets. There's very little code necessary to make apps compatible on both platforms, but as there's a lower number for iPad apps than iPhone, that code is still necessary.
   Apps should be the same on both device types. Having two app types means fragmentation to start with. Android has actually taken a step forward in this regard, as since 3.2 it's possibly to dynamically scale an app, particularly useful for tablets 7"-10".
   Then there's users that complain that their Android device is slow and laggy. Can you expect the same user-experience for a $100 device as you can from a $700 one? If you believe that, please try an iPhone 2G, 3G or 3GS.

   As a conclusion I'd like to reinforce my first statement. Fragmentation is indeed a FUD term spread by Apple that had no idea it would backfire on them even in the tightly controlled "OS developer/manufacturer -> user" ecosystem. The truth is, that as bad as it sounds, even with iOS's partial updates and different markets it's still not a thing to worry about. Even so the device experience is mainly the same on all devices.
Who is least affected by fragmentation? Android or iOS? I'll let you be the judge of that. In my opinion, Windows Phone 7 is the least affected, but with more devices and OS versions their turn will come ;)

Sources:, Business Insider,,