Measuring Android Version Fragmentation

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Comparing Android version market share and adoption rates over time.

Android fragmentation is a dirty little buzzword you’ve likely heard everywhere from Angry Birds to Steve Jobs and probably in strategy meetings with us here at MarketNet about that big app idea your company has.

Just what exactly is fragmentation and how big of a problem is it for Android and your project? Chris Sauve at pxldot has done a great job summarizing and charting the issue on his blog post Android Measuring Stick.

One of the best things about Google’s Android operating system is that it’s open source and available for other developers and device manufacturers to pretty much do whatever they’d like with it. That means we can get cool things like fitness accessories and Fossil watches powered by Android, but it also means that there’s no one true version of Android out there that to develop for.

Right now there are three versions of Android still out there in numbers large enough to require support, and that’s ignoring the brand new Android 4.0 (also called Ice Cream Sandwich) that was released in November and is currently running on about 1% of Android devices. It’s easy to predict that in just a month or two there will be four versions of Android out there, each with huge numbers of users. Even if version 2.1 (Eclair) is “only” at a 7.6% share, with the number of total Android devices out there numbering in the hundreds of millions that is a lot of potential customers you could be turning away if your site or app doesn’t work with that version. Add in the diversity of screen sizes available and you’re starting to understand what a difficult and important issue market fragmentation can be for a mobile project.

Google Chrome Coming to Android Devices*

Google Chrome is finally coming to Android phones and tablets. A beta is available for download now if you’re one of the lucky few already running Android 4.0/Ice Cream Sandwich (hence the asterisk* in the post title.) No word on when (or if) Chrome will come to other Android versions or become the operating system’s default browser.

In general the user interface looks very intuitive and clean, particularly the tab view and tab switching functionality. Chrome for Android will also reportedly bring improved performance and better rendering of pages. Plus if you’re signed in with a Google account you can sync things like tabs and bookmarks across devices (phone, tablet, and desktop.)

Get more information and some hands-on impressions over at The Verge.

Update: Chrome for Android won’t support Flash. From Adobe, “Adobe is no longer developing Flash Player for mobile browsers, and thus Chrome for Android Beta does not support Flash content.”

PhoneGap 1.0 Released

The PhoneGap open source mobile development platform released their 1.0 version on Friday at the first ever PhoneGap Day in Portland. The platform originally launched in 2009 and after some iPhone App Store hiccups, they have steadily improved by fixing bugs, adding features, and extending platform support as they approached their 1.0 release. Seven mobile platforms are currently supported including iOS, Android, Blackberry, WebOS, and Windows Phone 7.

PhoneGap is a development platform that allows our developers to leverage standard web technologies to build native, cross platform mobile applications. HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript (along with server-side databases and code) are used to build the base of the mobile web application and then we can wrap that code with PhoneGap in order to leverage native APIs to access a mobile device’s camera or GPS functionality. That standards-based app can then be deployed to the various platforms and app stores.

The Difference Between the Top 10 iPhone & Android Applications

Maybe the best example of the differences between iPhone users and Android users is the difference between the top apps for the respective devices. Here are the lists of top apps from Retrevo:

Top 10 iOS Apps
  1. Angry Birds
  2. Angry Birds Rio
  3. Tiny Wings
  4. Fruit Ninja
  5. Where’s Waldo?
  6. Tetris
  7. Words With Friends
  8. The Sims 3
  9. Cut The Rope
  10. Plants Vs. Zombies
Top 10 Android Apps
  1. Beautiful Widget
  2. Rom Manager *Premium*
  3. Root Explorer
  4. Fruit Ninja
  5. Better Keyboard
  6. Robo Defense
  7. SetCPU
  8. Weatherbug Elite
  9. Titanium Backup Pro
  10. Power AMP *Full Version*

As much as Android fans love to tout how customizable their phones are, I think the fact that the top apps are almost all ways to change CPU settings, manage RAR archives, and other random hardware tweaks is a little crazy. I’m not sure what a normal Android user thinks when they first check the app store and sees this kind of stuff.

Think Apps are All That Matters for Mobile? Think Again.

The buzz out there now is all about apps. Whether it’s for iPhone or Android, you can’t visit Yahoo.com or watch the local news without hearing all about the latest, greatest mobile app. Dedicated apps that users install from app stores have a lot of advantages and there are some out there we all can’t live without, but you can’t ignore the mobile web.

Two apps that are on most every smartphone user’s home screen are Twitter and Facebook. They’re two of the best designed apps out there and both have been in the top 25 free apps in the iTunes App Store consistently since launch. Knowing that you might think Facebook and Twitter users always take advantage of those great apps when they’re on the go, but the numbers say otherwise. Based on numbers aggregated by Luke Wroblewski, mobile usage of the top two social juggernauts continues to explode and much of it is on the mobile version of their websites:

  • 50% of the more than 500 million active Facebook users currently access Facebook through their mobile devices (250M) compared to 25% a year ago (100M out of 400M). 33% of Facebook posts are sent via mobile devices. (source)
  • Facebook’s top mobile client is m.facebook.com (Facebook’s mobile Web site) with 18% of total new Facebook posts. Android, iPhone, and Blackberry are next each with about 4% of total new Facebook posts. (source)
  • 50% of total active Twitter users are on multiple platforms (mobile) compared to 25% a year ago. 40% of all tweets are sent via mobile. (source)
  • Twitter’s top mobile client is m.twitter.com (Twitter’s mobile Web site) with 14% of total unique users. SMS is next with 8% of total unique users. Then Twitter for iPhone (8%) followed by Twitter for Blackberry (7%). (source)

For both sites, a much higher percentage of people are using the mobile website than any particular mobile app. On Twitter, even SMS is still ahead of the iPhone and Blackberry apps. Whether it’s because they’re on older phones or because they’re following links in an email or a search result (remember that links don’t open apps), it’s clear that just because you offer an app doesn’t mean your mobile web presence is any less important.