If you're unfamiliar with the term "Android fragmentation," it refers to the fact that Google's Android OS runs on countless different types of hardware, with disparate screen sizes and resolutions, etc., from countless device manufacturers. This makes it incredibly difficult if not impossible for Android developers to create uniform, seamless experiences for their users.
Of course, Android fragmentation also presents a certain number of benefits for Android users. For example, mobile phone users looking for new Android devices have infinitely more hardware options than, say, iPhone users.
The developers behind the OpenSignalMaps app for Android, software that collects anonymous network-related data from its users to help identify the strongest cellular and Wi-Fi networks in specific areas, this week released two graphics that really help understand the extent of the Android fragmentation issue.
OpenSignalMaps' graphics are based on data from 681,900 devices--3997 distinct devices from 599 distinct brands—that the developer collected during the past six months. (The numbers aren't perfect, since devices running custom ROMs are identified separately than the same devices with official software. But those are rare exceptions that don't really affect the graphics.)
The above graphic shows the 599 unique Android device manufacturers identified by OpenSignalMaps, and the bottom graphic depicts data on individual device models. (Samsung is the clear leader with 270,144 devices tracked, or about 40 percent of the total Android market, thanks in large part to its hugely popular Galaxy SIII device, model GT-I9100.)
No small-time developer could ever tailor his application to every single one of the spaces shown in the second graphic. That means only the devices represented by the largest spaces in the graphic will see the best possible application experience, and users with less popular devices may see a sub-par software experience.
In a time when application quality and app selection have a profound effect on the popularity of mobile platforms, this is a major issue. And, unfortunately, no simple solution exists.