Fragmentation Nightmare: Challenges of Mobile Application Development

12 Jan

Mobile Apps Fragmentation

No doubt that mobile app for smart phones brings a lot of opportunities and lucrative market. According to Gartner, in 2013 alone 21, 6 billion application will be sold for a total of $29.5 billion revenue. In addition, 25 percent of the revenue generated by mobile applications will be free versions, supported by mobile advertisement.  In addition, Juniper Research forecasts “that the number of global smart phone shipments will mobifragreach billion per annum in 2016, up from 302 million in 2010. Smartphones – traditionally high-end handsets will make-up the majority of shipments in five years’ time, as this type of device becomes available at lower price points”. Therefore, one of the biggest barriers in mobile application development is fragmentation. It increases the cost and the time to develop mobile applications

In addition, the characteristics of mobile phones have dramatically changed. Mobile phones are not traditional phones where voice and SMS were the popular features. Customers are consciously demanding more advanced features, such as GPS, Context-aware-location based application, better UX and advanced multimedia features.

This will in turn invigorate the spread of mobile technology which will have a dramatic impact of the lives of individuals. Furthermore, the boundary between internet and telecommunication technologies is becoming more blurred than ever. Consequently, mobility will provide freedom of not being bounded by time and space.

However, mobile development ecosystem is much tied and sensitively responsive to individual actors in Mobile ecosystem. In addition, fiercely contesting device manufactures have heavily been investing their proprietary device technologies and services, such as UI, battery safety and life-cycle, UX superiority and camera design.

Mobile OS providers attempt to deliver an effective and developer-centric OS that may invigorate rapid development. Consequently, service providers, content providers, mobile application developers, OS providers and device manufactures became interdependent actors in mobile ecosystem. But it is the application developer that binds them together, the center of gravity. Therefore, developers are the key movers of the mobile market and sustainer of quality of services in any brand.

The astronomical investment and fierce competitions among device manufactures on one hand and among OS providers on the other hand have provided a better device models in terms of capabilities and functionality, such as touch screen, gravity sensors, better battery life-cycle. However, this also created discrepancies among devices and OSes, which in turn made an exceeding hard for developers to deliver hundreds of similar featured applications with various versions for the market consumption.

One of the poignant cases related to this misery is the angry bird’s tale. After Angry bird’s application game imagesencountered massive malfunctions on different Android devices, Rovio has explained “With our latest update, we worked hard to bring Angry Birds to even more Android devices. Despite our efforts, we were unsuccessful in delivering optimal performance. So far, we have hesitated to create multiple versions of Angry Birds for the Android platform. We are currently developing a lighter solution to run Angry Birds on lower-end Android devices. This does not mean lighter game-play or a lesser amount of levels, but a game experience optimized for devices with less processing power [1]”.

According to Larry Page, CEO of Google, 39 manufacturers around the world are current producing devices based on Android [2]. As a consequence, the more smart phone devices penetrate into the market, the more fragmentations emerge and the exacerbation of mobile application development condition.

For instance, smart phone screen sizes for Android devices differ significantly, that is, the values of ImageMaxWidth differ widely. According to Netbiscuits, the value ImageMaxWidth variable of 172 different Android devices has been compared, and the result was staggering. The result showed a broad range, from 220 up to 1280 pixels . In addition to that, JavaScript attributes that provide those values are widely different . Therefore, fragmentation is not limited to specific type of phone. Furthermore, as consequence of fragmentation among devices and OSes lengthens application testing, which is turn increases the cost of development and stretches time to market.

As a consequence, some other solutions has been sought to solve this problem by attempting to standardize network APIs. In this respect, Gsmworld OneApi and Wholesale Application Community (WAC) have attempted to address this type of fragmentation by providing standardized API for billing and common set of specification for the network. Although this seems to be a huge step toward solving fragmentation pain, but application developer has to sign commercial contracts with each operator separately. In this way, this solution has created another fragmentation – fragmented commercial access points, at least developers’ point of view.

Will Mobile Web Applications (MWAs) solve this problem ?

De-fragmentation through mobile website or mobile cloud concepts are being discussed in mobile arena. For instance, over 80 percent of mobile app developers are building or planning to build mobile websites. In this respect, mobile web applications (MWAs) can offer compatibility across devices, instant upgradability and easy development, thus, candidate for de-fragmentation solution.

Furthermore, almost all mobile devices on the market have pre-installed browsers providing extensive opportunities to reach greater audience. In addition to that, Mobile website application technologies, including HTML, JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) are very familiar to application developers. In this respect, MWAs may target mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets and others with browsers that support APIs to access native capabilities. However, existing browser fragmentation among mobile devices may hinder wide acceptance of MWAs. Additionally, some browser engines may have limited capabilities to render web pages that use advanced technologies, while others may provide high  responsiveness of the application due to support of web workers  feature which offers web developers an opportunity to offload some tasks to a background process or thread. Furthermore, screen sizes and resolutions fragmentation among devices may still exacerbate portability nightmare. Although, amalgamation of useful techniques, such as abstracting layers via frameworks, CSS media queries via webkit browsers, pre-detection feature and browser type with feature detection libraries including Modernizr will minimize fragmentation impacts on user experience, more major weaknesses still exist in WMAs, such as discoverabilities issues, portability across devices due to discrepancies among browser and incapability of exploitation of device feature, hence inferior UX both in terms of contextual and implementation.

End users may demand interactivity, such as gaming, personalization and also off-line accessibility. Additionally, some applications may need to use device’s processing power, GPS and camera. Consequently, mobile websites may not necessarily offer the ultimate solution for fragmentation. Therefore, another solution may be needed, such as Mobile Cloud Computing (MCC)

[1] Rovio Blog, “Angry bird’s Android feedback”,

[2] Google Official Blog, “Supercharging Android: Google to Acquire Motorola Mobility”, August 15, 2011,

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Posted by on January 12, 2013 in Mobile Cloud Computing


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