In an interview with Android’s head of design, Mathias Duarte gave the (unimpressive, I think) response to the question of why there are so many different versions of Android in the wild just now:
“A lot of those issues really are much more related to the hardware capabilities. Things like just how much memory you have. The reality is, right now Android is growing so quickly, it’s like it was back in the X86 days of PCs. When you got that 286 and were so excited! ‘Yes!’ And then Quake comes along and your 286 just couldn’t do the job. So right now, we have that issue people call ‘fragmentation,’ where some of the older hardware just won’t run the new OS. So trying to upgrade the OS is really difficult.”
While I don’t normally write about technical / platform issues, the Android fragmentation problem is now becoming a genuine challenge for organisations that want to deliver consistently fantastic user experiences on the platform.
This great chart, published last year by Michael Degusta, really brings the point home.
Update (16/5/12): CNET looks at fragmentation by manufacturer in Here’s what Android fragmentation really looks like (cnet.com)