Mobile Device Fragmentation – What it is and why should you care

Mobile device fragmentation occurs when some mobile users are running older versions of an operating system while other users have updated to the latest and greatest version.

Mobile device fragmentation is often made worse when the wireless carrier, rather than the device manufacturer, is in charge of deciding when to deploy operating system updates. Mobile device fragmentation can be a problem for software developers who must create different versions of the same app in order to make sure it works correctly with different versions of a given OS. It can also be a problem for IT departments because different operating versions have different capabilities which can make them harder to manage and secure. Mobile device fragmentation is often associated with Android due to the large number of third party manufacturers who provide their own “re-skinned” versions of the OS such as Sense UI for Huawei users. Mobile device fragmentation is not as much of an issue with iOS devices though some users will habitually stay on older versions. 

The term mobile device fragmentation is also used to describe different versions of the same operating system that are created when an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) modifies an open source mobile operating system for specific products such as wearables, cars or smart homes.

Usually, when businesses first think about building an app, they think about that app being used on a smartphone. But today’s end users don’t just own smartphones. They now have tablets, smart watches, smart homes and wearables to take into account. Some users will even have Android or iOS apps in their cars. When it comes to developing an app developers need to think about all of the devices users will want to be able use the app on, which devices will be coming to market and how you prepare your app for a seamless rollout on those new devices when they go on sale.

The real life issues this creates

User Dissatisfaction – There’s nothing worse than updating your device and suddenly your favourite app stops working as it should. This can lead to poorer app store reviews or for subscription based businesses cancellations and loss of customers.

Cross platform Development Tools – These tools take a little time to catch up on any OS updates released, this lag time is improving all the time with some tools even claiming to be updated within 24 hours. In our experience this rarely seems to be the case but the improvements over the last few years have been impressive.

Issues with Bugs – Sometimes OS updates create issues for apps and bug fixes need to be applied but this can be difficult to track and manage when your user base is not all on the same version of OS or even different modifications of the Android OS. Third party manufacturers often have different tolerance levels around issues such as battery management which can make app suspension issues difficult to diagnose and resolve. A challenge for app developers is being able to track and quickly react to these issues to keep their user bases happy.

Fixing the real life issues

Here at Indiespring, where we were developing and working on apps all day every day, so much variance and so many devices in the market started to become a problem. It was a genuine challenge to manage so much unpredictability! With this in mind we worked internally to devise a proactive solution which solved our issues around device fragmentation. It worked so well and we learnt so much we took it to market to help other businesses in the same situation.

We started by acquiring a suite of phones which cover around 95% of our app users. With these on hand we can routinely check each for OS variance releases and carry out testing against each device against a pre-written test script. Naturally, this still takes some considerable resource and diligence and can also throw up an unpredictable workload for your QA team and developers. However, it allows us to report issues quickly and stay ahead of customer complaints that can occur from people simply running different OS versions.

Obviously this is something any development team can begin doing themselves but with the costs of new devices (we spend thousands of pounds just on iPhones every year!), the cost of QA testers to be able to test and the time spent managing a large suite of devices this can be a costly and time consuming exercise. With this in mind we took the idea to some of our clients and offered to use our device testing suite to assure the quality of their apps on new OS variance releases.

The Mobile Assurance Programme has proven popular with several clients now trusting Indiespring to provide detailed reports on their apps’ health every time a new iOS or Android release is pushed to users. Alongside this we have expanded the offering to device testing on new app releases or Beta versions of new OS releases for some clients. We also keep them informed of changes in the app store terms which might affect their app.

One such client are Crewe based Trak Global who have trusted all OS variance release testing to Indiespring for the last 18 months.

“Indiespring have delivered a seamless integration with our development and their vigilance around the MAP program means we can focus on developing our products further without the distraction of OS variance releases.”

Peter Finch – Trak Global, Chief Technical Officer

Of course, this system can be rolled out by any app development team with the resources to invest in a large suite of devices. The benefits of keeping on top of the mobile landscape and ensuring your apps are functioning as expected for all users are obvious. Improved app store reviews, reduced frustration and immediate alarm bells when an app has an issue caused by an OS release come to mind immediately.

If you’d like to discuss our Mobile Assurance Programme, our device testing suite or anything else to do with mobile app development please get in touch.