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Android Fragmentation: How to Deal With It

Android Fragmentation is a concept heavily thrown about in most media about Android nowadays.
Android fragmentation is the term for the number of different handsets and operating versions of
Android out in the wild currently; phones running Android versions 1.5 to 2.3 and anywhere in-
between, not to mention customized ROMs and carrier versions. It has plagued Android almost
since its inception, and many developers are left wondering how to deal with this irksome problem.
The truth of the matter is that fragmentation is not a new thing; it is a common problem seen in
open-source programs and operating systems. Linux, which Android is based on, has suffered
from fragmentation almost since its inception as well. It is a thorny problem, because it is near-
impossible for developers to hit such a broad range of targets; they can never be quite sure what
platform their program is going to be run on, and whether or not a custom carrier skin or theme will
change the basic functionality of the phone.
There are, however, steps that can be taken against Android fragmentation. The most useful is to
decide on a baseline Android operating system to build against. There are some that call Android
fragmentation "progress" instead; they say that users running older phones shouldn't expect to be
able to run all apps designed for newer phones. This is true, to a certain extent; many would agree
that it is unrealistic to be developing against Android 1.5 as a baseline now, for example. It is
equally unreasonable, however, to assume that you can develop against the newest versions; it is
rare in the phone world that the majority of handsets will have upgraded to the most recent
version, and the market majority will be one or two versions behind. That said, you should plan
accordingly and develop to a version you believe will be the most prevalent on Android handsets
that will use your app, and over time you can phase in new features or build to a higher baseline
OS version.
The second point to be made here is that Android fragmentation has actually diminished recently,
and is expected to over time. Google has announced that they will take measures to combat
fragmentation, including a special Fragments API, and they have also announced they will make
stricter hardware requirements and mandate updates to major carriers to avoid Android
fragmentation.

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