On Platform fragmentation

The game has changed from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems (Stephen Elop) . The ecosystem is based on the software and hardware platform,  plus additional services, applications and gears built on top of the platform. Different players are involved, carriers, OEMs, Internet companies, OS providers, hardware manufacturers, accessories manufacturers.  It is pretty clear that platform management is very important.  The platform must offer a consistent experience and the different pieces must fit together in a cohesive way for the benefits of the stakeholders of the ecosystem.


  1. By changing the screen resolution applications will have problems in being displayed correctly. (HW side)
  2. Creating extensions in the APIs only in some of the products create fragmentation with applications that only work in specific SW. See the example of creating different UI styles and frameworks on top of Android (SW side)

Let´s take the example of the gyroscope. This sensor is probably not a must have but rather a nice to have. However, the implications can be wider.First of all, the gyroscope enables experiences that start to be common on smart phones. For examples virtual reality apps, new UI gestures and gaming are some of the applications that use the gyroscope.

More importantly, not having the gyroscope will INCREASE the fragmentation of the platform.

There will be applications that cannot run on some of the devices because of the lack of this enabler e.g. Layar or they will run with inferior user experience or performance. A developer will not have a clear view on how many devices his applications can target and not a clear view of which enablers are in which device.

Yes, developers will have a “if then” clause to make sure the device has the set of enablers required and the app store will present to the users only the apps that support that specific device.

But what happens when as user I move to another device (with the same OS) and I cannot have the application I had in my previous phone ? Users do not know anything about the gyroscope but they know they used “Layar” and in some Nokia devices is available and in others is not.

Apple is doing everything to ensure that the platform is not fragmented. Every person buying an iPhone 2 knows that all of them will have a gyro. iPhone 3 will have gyro as well, and so on. Of course, there are old Apple devices that do not have the gyro. Yes, Apple has only one device to manage and one market segment to target and this is pretty easy. But it is probably one of the reasons they have not created a iPhone at lower cost (yet).

The problems come when you want to offer the devices at different price points. You have to reduce memory and remove non essential enablers, but this has a price in terms of fragmentation and has to be managed very carefully.

HW and SW enablers should be managed to ensure a consistency for developers, end-users and the stakeholders in the system. By not having a consistent set of enablers will confuse developers and users.  In the moment you introduce an enabler, you must consistently have it in future versions of the platform and across the portfolio. You can still have different price segments, but the variations  must be limited and well defined.

Android explosive growth has also caused fragmentation given the different number of products with different specifications, OS versions and so on. At the beginning growth had  a higher priority, now it is time to tackle the fragmentation. The corrective answer  has come, see the Bloomber Businessweek article Do Not Anger the Alpha Android (Google cracks down on the chaos of Android Land; some mobile partners aren’t happy).

And excerpt:

Playtime is over in Android Land. Over the last couple of months Google (GOOG) has reached out to the major carriers and device makers backing its mobile operating system with a message: There will be no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software. No more partnerships formed outside of Google’s purview. From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google’s most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans. And they will seek that approval from Andy Rubin, the head of Google’s Android group.

Over the past few months, according to several people familiar with the matter, Google has been demanding that Android licensees abide by “non-fragmentation clauses” that give Google the final say on how they can tweak the Android code—to make new interfaces and add services—and in some cases whom they can partner with. Google’s Rubin says that such clauses have always been part of the Android license, but people interviewed for this story say that Google has recently tightened its policies.

“The premise of a true open software platform may be where Android started, but it’s not where Android is going,” says Nokia (NOK) Chief Executive Stephen Elop.

Not everybody is happy of course. How would OEMs differentiate? The platform wants to be consistent, the OEMs want to be different. Differentiation should come from services built on top of the platform, for example music, maps, wellness but that also means a different strategy, skill set and organizations. This industry is moving fast and it is very interesting to follow.