Google’s engineers say they want to fix fragmentation. While that’s a noble goal (and what good engineer wouldn’t want to fix that?) Google’s engineers can’t fix fragmentation. Not only that but Google as a company doesn’t seem to care about it because the average user doesn’t seem to care about it.
One avoids fragmentation by controlling the hardware and the software. Google paid $12.5 billion dollars for Motorola but makes the latest ‘Nexus experienced’ phone with Samsung … the only company making a profit with Android currently. Apparently they have no interest in being a hardware vendor. Google allows anyone to use Android for their tablets or phones and often the low-priced devices do not use hardware sufficient to run modern versions. Various handset makers release dozens of models of phones every year; once you’ve bought this year’s model they have no impetus to go back and certify new releases of Android on older hardware. They want to sell you a new phone … not support one that brings them no revenue. The carriers similarly have no incentive to keep updating your OS. The fragmentation problems on Android aren’t a technical problem for Google’s engineers to fix. It’s a business model decision. Fragmentation is the price Google pays to not have iOS be the dominant smartphone OS and to also completely neuter all competition in the mobile space that isn’t named Apple.
There are basically two types of customers in the US for mobile phones: those that want a powerful smartphone and those that do not care about having a smartphone at all. The ones that don’t care about that seem to be a larger market. You can’t really buy non-smartphones anymore. If you go into any carrier store in the US you have some iPhones, a whole lot of Android phones running the gamut from free to expensive, and in the corner a couple of Windows phones and maybe a BlackBerry. The users who care about low-cost will usually get a lower cost Android. They’re not familiar with terms like Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, or Jellybean. Most don’t have expensive data plans. The low-end Android phone has become the entry model phone for many users. These types of users won’t obsessively update the OS or whine about missing features. I have known people like this … they didn’t even surf the web using the phone’s browser. This is why Apple could still sell their 3GS for three years which is the equivalent of three lifetimes in the mobile phone market. The difference being that Apple continued to allow the 3GS to run the latest version of the operating system even if all features weren’t available on it.
When it comes to Android, Google’s relationship isn’t with the end user but with handset manufacturers whose relationships are with the carriers. Google can’t get updates to the end user because Google’s customers won’t offer it because it makes no financial sense for them to do it. Google’s primary revenue from Android comes from serving you ads by way of search engine searches or tracking your data through Google’s apps. Older versions of Android can do this just fine.