Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fighting Android Fragmentation: Should HTC Sense become an app?

Google's Android OS has been gaining huge ground lately on almost all cell phone carriers worldwide. Companies such as Motorola, Samsung, and HTC have jumped aboard creating handsets that utilize the open operating system. Google's own Nexus One was designed and manufactured by HTC.

One thing HTC usually adds to most of their offerings (thought not on the Nexus One) is a user interface layer called "HTC Sense". This is basically "skin" of sorts that adds some functionality to HTC phones, including cool widgets and social networking add-ons. It is typically highly regarded in the Android world, though there are those who would prefer a "stock" Android installation.

I personally use the Sprint HTC Hero Android phone (pictured). It runs HTC Sense, though it's currently still running Android 1.5, and not the latest 2.1 that the newer phones are getting. This is an example of what people are calling the "fragmentation" of Android. Fragmentation basically means that there are multiple versions of the Android OS out in the wild, causing some software to only run only on certain versions. Fragmentation is bad any way you look at it. Software developers have to choose which version their apps will support, or need to work harder to support them all.

Add on top of that the modifications that some carriers add to their phones (Sprint adds their own built-in apps, for example) and the different skins that certain manufacturers add (HTC Sense and Motorola's Motoblur, for example) and you get a difficult and complex landscape to manage.

Google has announced that they plan to battle fragmentation starting with the next version of Android, code-named Froyo, by focusing the OS to include just the core fundamentals, and breaking out certain features as downloadable apps instead of being baked into the core. This is a great step forward in fighting fragmentation, and it occurred to me that it is only the first step.

Carriers and handset manufacturers need to follow by making their add-ons an a-la-carte affair. Want HTC Sense on your handset? Download the app! Want Sprint TV? Search the marketplace!

Obviously, there would need to be some logic around this for business purposes. For example, only HTC handsets can download HTC Sense in the marketplace. Or only Sprint customers would be able to download Sprint TV.

Or better yet, make HTC Sense (or Motoblur) available to everyone for a small fee. If you happen to prefer using Sense over stock Android, why not be able to install it? And HTC can make a buck in the process. The idea is for ALL Android phones to be able to run the same stock version and get updates from Google, and all the other features and add-ons would be downloadable. Kind of sounds like a regular desktop OS, doesn't it? Sure would make it easier, faster, and more convenient for all!


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