Android Version Confusion Boosts Need for Mobile APM

The world’s population of smart devices including phones and tablets is heavily skewed toward the Android OS. According to Gartner research quoted by TechRepublic, as of the end of 2013 Android devices accounted for more than 75 percent of the total worldwide mobile market share while iOS devices held on to less than 20 percent. (iOS’s U.S. market share is significantly higher.) Other operating systems filled in the gap, meaning there’s still plenty of room for mobile app developers to hop into the Android market.

Android is dominant, but splintered

Android_Robot_200But even though Android’s overall market share makes it the Godzilla of mobile operating systems, that dominance comes with a huge caveat for mobile app developers. The Android OS is hugely fragmented among both carriers and device manufacturers, making it impossible for devs to test their code on a single device and assume it will run properly—or even at all—on any or all of the others.

This difficult situation was laid bare in a recent Ars Technica report on “The state of Android updates: Who’s fast, who’s slow, and why.”

The report focuses on the first implementation the Android 4.4 release (nicknamed KitKat), first released on October 31, 2013. The first KitKat update was published for Google’s own Nexus 4, and it took only about 2 weeks to become available. But it took more than 4.5 months for the release to filter out to other devices from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and eventually LG. According to Ars Technica, the staggered delays are partly due to the fact that device manufacturers usually apply their own modifications to each Android release based on their own technology and marketing goals. This becomes increasingly complex because device manufacturers have already applied their own modifications to the prior releases, and need to make the additional changes based on Google’s updates.

But OS updating timing is only one issue facing Android app developers and their customers. The underlying issue is the Android customization applied by the manufacturers to KitKat in the first place. Those changes mean that devs need to test their code against every manufacturer’s release over a protracted period of time. Not only are devs often unaware of timing for the next Android release, they can’t know the effects of the combined changes that Google’s updates and the device manufacturers’ updates will have on their own apps until they have the opportunity to test them out in the wild.

Carrier concerns, too

But wait! There’s more.

In addition to hardware variations, each carrier applies its own customization to the base Android distribution. While most carrier changes don’t affect the user interface, it’s impossible to assume your app will be unaffected and will perform optimally.

Samit Shah, co-founder of Eventedge.co, which builds custom event apps, explains that, “Working with Android is about picking your targets. There are so many devices running so many different versions that unless you are a giant company, it’s almost impossible to develop for and test for every device. We make sure we have covered the most popular devices and then use test services to hit the more corner cases.”

Once the app is deployed and running on any number of the possible combinations it’s necessary to track how they are performing at a granular level. That means using mobile APM or m-APM as well as getting immediate reports from actual end-users so that you can track performance, and fix any problems that might arise quickly, before they affect a large number of your users.

“The good thing about Android,” says Shah, “is that app updates are quick and easy, so we try to stay on issues as they pop up.”

A mobile-APM solution can provide the visibility needed to address the issues noted above. First, developers get insight into which devices and operating systems are most popular amongst their users, and how they are split up by different app versions. Second, developers can isolate problems to individual devices and OSes to speed up problem solving.

Interested in learning more about mobile-APM? Get a free 30-day trial of New Relic’s mobile monitoring solution when you sign up today.

Scott Koegler is a technology journalist with 20+ years experience writing about enterprise topics, cloud computing, application development, integration, supply chain, big data, and interviews. View posts by .

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