The Silicon Valley Mercury News recently spent some time speaking with Android founder and Google VP, Andy Rubin where naturally, the subject of "fragmentation" and the rapid succession of Android releases came up. Rubin acknowledged the quick growth of the platform and the problems developers face with such speedy innovation, but said Google is slowing development over the next few months. After eight releases in the first 18 months of the OS, Google is now pushing out roughly two updates a year. And down the road Rubin says releases will slow to one per year, much like Apple does with their iPhone OS.
"Our product cycle is now, basically twice a year, and it will probably end up being once a year when things start settling down, because a platform that's moving--it's hard for developers to keep up," Rubin said. "I want developers to basically leverage the innovation. I don't want developers to have to predict the innovation."
I'm glad that Google sees the benefit in slowing things down a bit. Fragmentation, or "legacy devices," have been a sticky point for many of Android's detractors. Even today there are devices running a version of Android that is three cycles behind.
For example, while some Android handsets are expected to launch with 2.2 later this year, others like the Motorola Backflip won't update from Android 1.6 until the third quarter. Even as much as I would love to see new development, Android doesn't need to be pushing the envelope quite so hard. There is plenty of growth on the hardware side of things to ensure the OS stays ahead of its competition. Companies like Motorola and Sony Ericsson deserve to breathe a little easier knowing they can push out a timelier, more relevant phone.
Even with the tools Google provides, developers have a difficult time staying ahead of the curve with bug-free and fully compatible apps. The announcement of Android 2.2 (Froyo) was unique in that the SDK was not simply launched with the release of a handset. The Droid brought Android 2.0 with it back in December and the Nexus One followed shortly after with Android 2.1. This has to be a relief for OEMs and carriers wishing to stay ahead of the Android curve. It's not known how long we'll wait until the first Froyo-flavored device hits the street, but every day that passes is another opportunity for handset makers to integrate the newest version.
On a related note, Google released the latest breakdown of platform versions. It's no big surprise to see that Android 2.1 is now the biggest slice of the pie at 45.1 percent of all devices. Some of this change comes from existing handsets like the Droid Eris and Samsung Moment, which recently saw an update to Android 2.1.
Meanwhile, Motorola recently reiterated its claim that the Cliq and Cliq XT will get similar treatment this quarter. The pie chart should change drastically over the next few months with new phones like the EVO 4G, Droid Incredible, and Samsung Galaxy S rolling out this summer.