Android fragmentation ‘worse than ever’ – but OpenSignal says that’s good


The Android device landscape is increasingly dominated by Samsung, according to new data compiled by Opensignal, which found that smartphones and tablets from the South Korean company made up 47.5% of all Android systems using its app.

But the operating system itself “is the most fragmented it has ever been,” say the developers behind a highly popular app used for checking signal strengths.

The findings emerge from an annual report on the state of the Android device market, following a similar one – with the same number of downloads – carried out in 2012.

They also found that the complexity of the Android installed base has expanded almost threefold, rising from 3,997 different makes and models of devices at this time in 2012 to 11,868 now. The data was gathered from the 682,000 most recent downloads of its app out of a 4m lifetime total.

The breadth of data makes it one of the most comprehensive and open reports on the state of the Android market in Europe and the US; while Google provides some detail about the versions of Android connecting to its Google Play store each month, it does not break that down by manufacturer or model.

The extent of the “fragmentation” of Android – in which older versions are still used alongside much newer ones – is also laid bare by the data, which shows that there were eight different versions in use, of which 37.9% were on Android 4.1, aka “Jelly Bean” – slightly above the 32.3% figure Google shows for the proportion which accessed its store using that version of its OS.

OpenSignal’s app for Android and iPhone provides details of mobile coverage including maps, signal strength and available nearby Wi-Fi networks.

The astonishing complexity of the devices being used is shown in a treemap of devices, contrasting 2012 and 2013. The size of the square is proportional to the number of those devices using the OpenSignal app.


2012) and S2 dominate the top spots, with the Galaxy Note 2 showing up third. The Galaxy S4, released in May 2013, has already pushed its way to the fourth spot. All but one of the top ten devices is from Samsung; the 10th is the Nexus 4, the cut-price high-end smartphone made by LG for Google.

“Despite the problems, fragmentation also has a great number of benefits for both developers and users,” notes Samuel Johnston of OpenSignal. “The availability of cheap Android phones (rarely running the most recent version) means that they have a much greater global reach than [Apple’s iPhone software] iOS, so app developers have a wider audience to build for. It may be tricky to do, but the potential reward definitely makes it worthwhile. For consumers, extreme fragmentation means that they can get exactly the phone they want – big or small, cheap or expensive, with any number of different feature combinations.” The data also points to a revival for Sony and LG, which a year ago had looked to be knocked out of the market – but have come back into view with the help of their corporate parents. Taiwan’s HTC, meanwhile, which warned on Tuesday that it will probably make a loss in the third quarter, was pushed below Chinese rivals Huawei and ZTE in the share of devices using the app.

Samsung dominates with 47.5%. “Some of the brand names shown as different in the graphic are part of the same company, i.e. Moto and Motorola are the same and HTC is shown as split up into its different regional variants,” explained Johnston. “But even when unified under one umbrella name Motorola only ends up with a 4.2% share and HTC even less at 3.9%.”

A graph showing the market share of the most common API level also points to increasing fragmentation at the OS level. When the most common API level has a high market share, it indicates that more devices have a common OS. But having hit a peak of over 60% in July 2011, when Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” dominated, the most-used API now is a later version of Gingerbread which only has around 35% share. That compares to 95% of iOS devices accessing Apple’s App Store which are running iOS 6, the latest version.


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