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Google: Fragmentation? We call it 'legacy'

In the past, Google has defended itself against the ongoing fragmentation criticism. At Google's annual developer conference in May, Andy Rubin himself said that Android fragmentation isn't fragmentation. "Some of the press has called it fragmentation, but that's probably the wrong word for it," he told reporters at Google I/O.

"The better word for it is 'legacy.' With these phones and devices, the iteration cycle is incredibly fast. It used to be that every 18 months, a new device would reach the market. But we're seeing it happen every three or four months. The software obviously has to keep up and I don't think anyone is harmed by it.

"I think everybody wants this rapid iteration."

He also pointed out that the Android app market hides applications that don't run on your particular device. "The marketplace — the store by which applications are distributed — does a really good job of pairing up the device capabilities that the user has with what's available for the device, so it's not like they'll see multiple versions of an application for the device." But this doesn't really address the potential problems facing developers.

Months earlier, Google open source guru Chris DiBona acknowledged that life can be "a little hard" for Android developers. "Sometimes, they have to adapt," he said, adding that they will adapt as long as Android has a hefty market share. "This is going to sound really cynical, but the only thing that really matters is how many of these we ship — how many Android phones. There is a linear relationship between the number of phones you ship and the number of developers."

It was a welcome moment from a company that's rarely so straightforward. Whether you agree with DiBona or not, he was at least addresses the primary issue — not tossing about meaningless claims of "openness."

It's always worth remembering that there are limits to the openness of Google's open source projects — and that other parts of the company's operation are kept preternaturally closed, including its search algorithms, the inner workings of search ad money machine, and its famously distributed backend infrastructure. Feel free to chuckle at Steve Jobs's conference call antics. But we can at least praise the man for pointing out that the word open has all but lost its meaning.

In the wake of the Jobs rant, Rubin and company would have been much better off pointing fingers at Apple's penchant for keeping certain applications and certain development platforms off the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This too is part of Steve Jobs's master plan to offer "integrated" devices, and though this may offer certain benefits to phone buyers, there are certainly drawbacks for buyers as well. The real question, as Jobs said, is what's best for users. Not what's best for those few people who can read a command line. ®

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