October 18, 2011, 6:04 AM — Google's Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" mobile OS release, which is expected to debut this evening, has developers hoping for resolution of longstanding platform fragmentation problems and critical bug fixes.
Android application developers now deal with multiple versions of the operating system, geared for either phones or tablets but not both. They also have had to cope with customized interfaces, making it tough to build applications to run across the variety of Android units on the market. "I'm anticipating [the operating system upgrade] hotly," said Brian Hardy, a software engineer and instructor at mobile software developer Big Nerd Ranch. "It's always nice to see what's new, but it will be refreshing to be able to develop on one platform at some point in the future."
[ See how badly Apple's iOS 5 trounced Android 3.2 "Honeycomb" and Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" in InfoWorld's tests. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Mobilize newsletter for the latest developments in mobile technology. ]
Currently, developers can use the Android 2.x platform for smartphones and 3.x platform for tablets. Google has released a compatibility library for sharing some functionality between 3.x and 2.x systems, but does not solve all problems, Hardy said. As an example, he cited that the action bar functionality is not available in the library.
Another developer chimed in that unification would bring Google in line with competitor Apple. "It's exactly what Apple did when they came out with the iPad," said Nick Farina, CTO at developer Meridian. "Google is doing the same, which I think is good." As a result, Android tablets and phones will share the same UI, simplifying development, he said.
Fragmentation has even affected Android's WebKit browser engine, said Mike Burns, a developer at Thoughtbot. "This is part of the fragmentation problem. They fix bugs in one version and introduce bugs in another version," he noted.