Sprint's Android updates highlight fragmentation

Just as Verizon pushes out the first operating-system update to the Droid, Android version 2.0.1, Sprint says its Android phones will get the 2.0 version as late as June next year.

On Friday, Sprint posted a Twitter message saying its HTC Hero and Samsung Moment phones will get Android 2.0 in the first half of 2010.

If the update happens near the end of that period, it means the phones will get Android 2.0 about eight months after Verizon's Droid, the first phone to run the software. Verizon is currently pushing out the updated version 2.0.1 to Droid phones.

The Sprint announcement points to a potential fragmentation issue that some experts worry might plague Android. Already there are phones on the market running Android 1.5, 1.6 and 2.0. The problem with having many versions in the market at the same time is that applications may have trouble working smoothly across all the OSes.

That makes the platform less attractive to the developers Google relies on to build interesting applications, and to end-users who may find that an application they download doesn't work on their phone.

A market with many versions of the software, and more to come, could discourage developers from building applications for the platform, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Interpret. They’ll wonder which version to bet on. “That type of confusion doesn’t give developers a warm and fuzzy feeling,” he said.

In addition, older Android phones may begin to exhibit hardware limitations preventing them from accommodating updates, making it more likely there will always be multiple versions of the software in the market.

At the time of the Droid release, Motorola, T-Mobile, Google and Samsung all declined to comment about whether existing Android phones would be upgraded to version 2.0. Some phone makers may be slow to support updated software because they have developed custom user interfaces -- like Motorola’s Blur and HTC’s Sense -- that must be updated at the same time.

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