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Google Finally Addressing Android Fragmentation

Google is reportedly addressing the nagging Android fragmentation issue by offering a new Android compatibility package for developers. Called the Fragment API, the tool will make it easier for developers to create new software for multiple Android devices and OS versions.

As it stands now, over half of the Android devices sport v2.2 "Froyo," and nearly a quarter of devices are still one step down the OS chain, using v2.1 "Eclair." Also out in the field are Android v1.6 and v1.5 builds. The just-released v2.3 "Gingerbread" only controls a sliver of the Android cookie.

From a developer's point of view, that's five different operating systems, and doesn't even include the new Android 3.0 "Honeycomb." But that also means various screen sizes, and things only get worse as tablets begin to emerge sporting 7-inch, 9-inch and 10-inch screens.

Previously Android v1.6 came equipped with "screen densities" and "screen sizes" to assist developers in scaling apps across different hardware, but those layout managers aren't equipped to handle the larger tablet screens. The new tool should make it easier to create apps that can span the majority of the Android versions and screen sizes, ranging from small handsets to the largest tablets.

The drawback is that the new tool is currently only available for the Android v3.0 OS. Developers still working on Froyo and Eclair don't have a way to scale their software to fit the tablet OS. Essentially this means Honeycomb developers can create apps spanning previous, current and future devices, but Froyo and older OS developers are locked to current v2.3 and previous hardware.

"For developers starting work on tablet-oriented applications designed for Android 3.0, the new Fragment API is useful for many design situations that arise from the larger screen," said Google's Tim Bray. "Reasonable use of fragments should also make it easier to adjust the resulting application’s UI to new devices in the future as needed -- for phones, TVs, or wherever Android appears."

"However, the immediate need for many developers today is probably to design applications that they can provide for existing phones while also presenting an improved user interface on tablets," he added. "With Fragment only being available in Android 3.0, their shorter-term utility is greatly diminished."

He said that Google plans to address this problem by having the same Fragment APIs as a static library for use with older versions of Android, possibly as far back as v1.6.

"Our goal is to make these APIs nearly identical, so you can start using them now and, at whatever point in the future you switch to Android 3.0 as your minimum version, move to the platform’s native implementation with few changes in your app," Bray said.

Google's Fragment API is expected to go live "relatively soon." To learn more, head here.