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Minyanville at CES: Google Puts Positive Spin on Android's Fragmentation

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Counting the phones, tablets, TVs, and home automation devices, Google's (GOOG) Android platform has a significant presence here at CES. Booth after booth, that little lime green robot pops up on everything from media centers to digital tabletops. But with more and more disparate products sporting Mountain View's versatile OS, its number one problem only grows worse.

Although Apple (AAPL), RIM (RIMM), and Microsoft (MSFT) have largely avoided the issue, Android continues to be hampered with fragmentation. Between manufacturers and carriers, Google can't seem to control or synchronize sweeping OS updates -- despite promises to do so.

And while customers and analysts alike are crying for greater unification and far less fragmentation, Google's executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt would rather play semantics than confront the problem head-on.

Taking the stage during CNET's presentation at CES, Schmidt bristled at moderator Molly Wood's mention of the term "fragmentation."

"You have to be careful with that word, fragmentation," he said. "I would say differentiation. Differentiation is positive, fragmentation is negative."

Schmidt clarified, "Differentiation means that you have a choice and the people who are making the phones, they're going to compete on their view of innovation, and they're going to try and convince you that theirs is better than somebody else."

Adding, "Fragmentation, however, means that you have an app and it runs on one device but not the other."

Sorry, Eric. I don't see a difference. If customers can't run an app intended for Ice Cream Sandwich -- Android's latest version -- because they have Gingerbread or Froyo, that's fragmentation. And considering Ice Cream Sandwich is only available through Samsung's Galaxy Nexus or a variety of roots and hacks, that customer base is massive.

Schmidt also defended Google's decision to allow manufacturers and carriers to add or change the user interface -- "as long as they don't break the apps," he indicated, not mentioning how Verizon (VZ) killed Google Wallet on the company's best phone. But the meddling done by manufacturers and carriers just contributes to more time for development and furthers fragmentation. Er, I mean "differentiation." The longer Motorola (MMI) needs to add its skin over Ice Cream Sandwich, the longer customers are left with outdated versions.

The executive chairman, however, sees this as a plus. "It's not required that everyone use the same interface," he said. "People are free to make the necessary changes. What's great is if you don't like it, you can buy the phone from someone else."

Adding, "It gives you far more choices."

Yes, choice is a great thing. It's one of the advantages Android users have over iPhone users. But the lack of uniformity and control over Android has left many customers expecting the latest and greatest to languish with outdated -- and in many cases, obsolete -- versions of what could be much, much better phones.

(See also: Minyanville at CES: So Sad We Missed Microsoft's Insane Exit and Apple Will Become "Uncool" in 2012, Predicts Analyst)

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