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As Android grows, so do fragmentation fears

Looking back at 2009, the biggest story shaping the mobile development landscape was the emergence of Google’s Android open-source operating system as a truly viable rival to Apple’s iPhone. Android seemed to gain momentum with each passing month this year–during the company’s third quarter earnings call in mid-October, Google CEO Eric Schmidt contended all the “necessary conditions” are now in place to galvanize the platform’s global growth, with close to 20 smartphones now available worldwide and many more in the pipeline. Looking ahead at 2010, it appears Android will continue to dominate discussion, but not all of it positive: Fragmentation fears continue to escalate, and Google itself is behind the latest wave of concern, albeit indirectly. A recent post on the Android Developers Blog underscores the complexities to come: According to the Device Dashboard, a new online tool providing data about the relative number of active devices running a given version of Android, 54.2 percent of smartphones currently run Android 1.6, 27.7 percent run Android 1.5 and 14.8 percent run 2.0.1. (Android 2.0 runs on 2.9 percent of devices, and 1.1 runs on just 0.3 percent.)

That’s not all. “Starting with Android 1.6, devices can have different screen densities and sizes,” writes Google software engineer Raphaël Moll. “There are several devices out there that fall in this category, so make sure to adapt your application to support different screen sizes and take advantage of devices with small, low density (e.g QVGA) and normal, high density (e.g. WVGA) screens. Note that Android Market will not list your application on small screen devices unless its manifest explicitly indicates support for ‘small’ screen sizes. Make sure you properly configure the emulator and test your application on different screen sizes before uploading to Market.” Moll also reminds developers that all Android 2.0 devices will upgrade to 2.0.1 before the end of the year, recommending updates for applications using features specific to 2.0.

While the stated objective of Moll’s post is “to provide [developers] with the tools and information to make it easy for you to target specific versions of the platform or all the versions that are deployed in volume,” the Device Dashboard nevertheless paints a sobering portrait of an Android ecosystem that’s splintering off in an increasing number of directions. Insiders even suggest that one of the motivating factors behind Google’s rumored development of its own branded Android smartphone is to guarantee a consistent user experience across its applications. For now, developer interest in Android remains strong: According to data released by applications tracker AndroLib, Android Market added 3107 new applications in November, and 2732 new apps so far this month. But with so many new Android devices in all shapes and sizes expected in 2010, the question isn’t whether the platform will grow too big for developers to ignore–it’s whether it will grow too big for them to manage. –Jason

P.S. Please note FierceDeveloper will be on publishing hiatus until Tuesday, Jan. 5. Have a memorable and safe holiday season, and see you back here in 2010.

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Google confirms trials of new Android mobile device

Google announced it is presently trialing a new Android-based device, referred to as a “Google phone” by an employee testing the product and officially called the Nexus One according to The Wall Street Journal, which adds the web services giant designed virtually all the software powering the device, from applications to the user interface of each screen. “We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe,” writes Google product management vice president Mario Queiroz on the Official Google Mobile Blog. “This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it.”

While Queiroz adds Google cannot share specific product details, employees are tweeting about the Nexus One and showing it off to friends. TechCrunch notes that one program manager posted on Twitter “…we all got the new Google phone. It’s beautiful” while other Twitter users report seeing the handset up-close, adding the unlocked HTC-produced smartphone runs on Android 2.1 and does not feature a physical keyboard.A sexy beast,” Twitter user GreatWhiteSnark writes. “Like an iPhone on beautifying steroids.”

In the past Google has consistently denied speculation it would introduce a branded Android handset, but the buzz has grown louder in recent weeks–in mid-November, TechCrunch reported the web services giant plans to release its own Android smartphone in early 2010, followed weeks later by a Gizmodo report stating prototype devices were on the way to Google’s Mountain View, Calif. Campus, all running a new version of the Android OS.

For more on the Google phone:
– read this Official Google Mobile Blog entry

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