When smartphones were new, Android gained traction because it was an Open Source project which was ready to adopt by anyone who wanted to challenge Apple with a low cost alternative. You could just lift Android AOSP, customize it and run it on any hardware to reap results. The very same freedom which made it spread like wildfire and gain huge chunk of market share, is now its greatest hurdle in delivering high end smartphone experience.
Fragmentation is in Android DNA
The very fact that you are allowed to download and modify Android however you please and sell it on any product means fragmentation. That is to say, there will be different permutations and combinations of Android hardware and software which would be very hard to control and even harder to update to a same version.
If Google rolls out a new version update, it might not bode well with a particular set of hardware and might break things. OEMs have to extensively test update for each device separately and with shorter launch cycles and diminishing price margins, this is not in their best interest. So whatever features Google rolls out takes at least one year to reach all categories of consumers.
For instance, Android Lollipop adoption is now at 25 percent and Marshmallow adoption is less than even 1 percent even after several weeks of official debut. This poses a problem for developers who have to work hard to make their apps compatible with several generations of software.
Google is trying to resolve this
While there is no immediate cure for Android fragmentation, Google has been trying to steadily take more control of the ecosystem. For example, all manufacturers are required to comply with Android compatibility guidelines if they need Google Play Services and Google Apps on their phone (which are pretty much indispensable).
Android OEMs are naturally not happy with passing over all control to Google and this surfaces in attempts to duplicate Google Apps on respective smartphones, which are often condemned as ‘bloatware’.
Also, Google tries to push most changes in the new Android versions to Google Playservices and to Google Playstore. For example, changes made to home-screen and app drawer in Android Marshmallow can be experienced by anyone who is using Google Now launcher, irrespective of the Android version. This way, it can ensure its Android vission quickly trickles down to its fragmented userbase.
Google wants to take more control over hardware
As technology evolves, it will be even more important to closely synchronize hardware and software. Applications like device encryption and Virtual Reality are some prime examples of the same.
According to a report from The Informer, Google is inclined to design Android chipsets in partnership with chipset makers which will help it realize its Android vision. Google can better equip chipsets for upcoming Android features which the company plans on integrating in the next few years.
This won’t be easy to swallow for Android OEMs and Chipmakers
Android OEM who are still struggling to make elaborate profits and popular Chip makers won’t be very happy with Google strengthening its grip on Android. However, the new Google designed chips aren’t expected to ship anytime soon, and they are more likely to show-up in Nexus devices first.
Besides we don’t think chipmakers will be willing to surrender either. In light of budding relationship between Google and Huawei, the latter might come onboard.