A few days back I found an interesting blog post by Eline over at Game Oven, talking about some of the difficulties they had developing their new game Bounden for Android. Specifically the post talks about the challenges they faced when expanding their list of Android test devices, which showed them that across Android devices the compass/gyroscope/accelerometer functionality could be wildly different. This got me to thinking about device fragmentation and how we normally talk about fragmentation as specifically relating to screen sizes.
Fragmentation by Ecosystem
The debate before and after every new iDevice announcement of the last few years has generally revolved around how a new screen size will affect fragmentation and developers, and how the Apple ecosystem may be inching towards Android's embrace of fragmentation. What hasn't generally been discussed is what Bounden is bringing up here, that the hardware itself, and the variation in components between Android manufacturers poses some interesting complications to the development process. Particularly if you are coming from iOS development, you may take it for granted that things like the accelerometer will behave similarly from device to device. It is completely fair that this would be taken for granted on a platform where a component like the accelerometer, gyroscope or compass would come from the same line of the same manufacturer for all devices, whether it be an iPhone, iPad or iPod.
Clearly fragmentation of screen sizes and quality of hardware, particularly on Android isn't going away. iOS will obviously never reach the same level as Android, but the days of only having to support one screen size went away years ago. Fragmentation of this type will always make development and maintenance of apps more challenging and costly. So what does this mean for developers and other folks with apps? I personally think it is about knowing your user.
In my previous post on understanding users I talked about how the users of each platform, or even within an ecosystem could be vastly different, and how important it is to understand those differences. If you take the time to understand the intricacies of users across the platforms you support you can develop personas for those users, such as their sophistication in your genre, or their likelihood to pay for your goods or services. Once you have developed even basic personas for the different users you might see across platforms you can have a much better understanding of how to focus your energy and limited resources. Because if you know which persona you are trying to target and which devices or platforms they use more heavily you can limit the number of devices you actually build for.
Traditional Marketing Ain't so Bad
If you know anything about traditional marketing you might be saying to yourself that this looks really similar to market segmentation and distribution decisions. It is similar, because that's what I'm suggesting you do. I am not suggesting anyone reinvent the wheel just because this is mobile or tech. In fact, one of the benefits of the mobile market maturing is that the wild west mentality is starting to settle down, and the intricacies of the market are starting to emerge. This means that moving forward it will not make sense to try to ship for all users on all devices and platforms, but rather you should be trying to focus on your market niche. That way you can have a greater chance at selling your product and you can spend less time and money supporting devices or platforms that your users don't even use.
So the next time you are thinking about what platforms to support and the challenges of fragmentation, you may want to take some time to dig a bit deeper, and determine where your best users are. Make sure the experience on those devices is amazing and don't worry as much about the rest. If you have any comments or thoughts to share feel free to leave them in the comments section below or email me at email@example.com.