Back in the day there were many PC manufacturers pushing their incompatible wares upon unwary customers. Apple had DOS. PCs had multiple versions of DOS. Even PCs with CP/M were sold in great numbers. Fragmentation was such that customers screamed for compatibility. Microsoft stepped up and ended most of the PC fragmentation wars with MS-DOS, then Windows.
How is today’s smartphone and tablet market different?
Microsoft’s Windows and Office suite brought compatibility to business and home. Apple’s Mac peacefully co-existed from the 1980s, thanks to loyal customers and file compatibility (documents, images, et al).
The greatest challenge to the traditional PC industry is Google and Apple’s duopoly control over the burgeoning mobile device market.
On the surface, it seems that fragmentation is no longer an issue. Google’s Android OS ships on about 80-percent of the smartphone and tablets being manufactured these days. Apple’s iOS gets most of the rest.
Microsoft, the dominant fragmentation buster of the 1980s and 1990s, is barely a footnote among mobile device manufacturers with technology that isn’t compatible with Android or iOS. The company struggles for relevance in the mobile industry.
It’s all over but the shouting, right? Is the fat lady ready to sing and anoint Google’s Android as the de facto winner, the conqueror of fragmentation?
Android is more fragmented today than DOS-based PCs were in the 1980s. While Microsoft struggles to get the latest Windows Phone update onto a small number of older devices, Apple touts non-fragmentation among iOS devices as a point of differentiation. iOS device owners upgrade with rabid frequency.
Google’s Android OS has many hundreds of devices from hundreds of manufacturers, and device owners often have no way to update their devices to the latest version. Ipso facto, more and more device fragmentation. Compare that to Apple’s latest– iOS 7.1– which runs on an iPhone 4 from 2011.
Of Android’s 80-percent marketshare, barely half of those devices are Google Play compatible, the rest not capable of app store purchases, and not in the Google apposphere (I made up that name).
Fragmentation, it seems, is alive and well in the 21st century, though it may not matter as much as it did to PC customers back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Why not? The Mac survived because enough file compatibility existed back then to make Mac ownership less painful.
Today, it’s an app world, but data, music, videos, photos, and most documents are fully compatible across platforms. The real difference that fragmentation brings is a have and have not world. Mobile platform profitability is a major component of long term viability, and that’s completely owned by Apple and Android-based Samsung. Not Google. Not Microsoft. Not Amazon. Not even Google.
My view for the future is simple. Fragmentation will be less of an issue in the future because– just like the 1980s– mobile device manufacturers will consolidate, a polite word for go out of business.