Android was everywhere at Mobile World Congress last week - there seems to be no stopping Google's mobile operating system that's now almost as ubiquitous as a colour display. But the success hides the platform's problems, insists one analyst.
Former Nomura analyst Richard Windsor paints a picture of increasing fragmentation creating a clear dividing line down the middle - with one half of the split populated by shoddy low-end devices that look good but "barely work".
"Android will separate into a high and a low end with the two having less and less to do with each other", he suggested, writing on his website. Gingerbread, the code-name for Android version 2.3.x, runs on 45 per cent of Android-powered devices even though it's at least two years old, but surprisingly, Windsor predicts this share may actually increase.
What makes a low-end Android gadget such a crappy experience? The cheapo hardware can't keep up with the demands of the software, we're told. Android is already fragmenting into Google-branded and non-Google-branded worlds, particularly in China. We've noticed that upcoming communications powerhouse Huawei makes Google almost invisible on its flagship smartphones.
Windsor is bullish about the prospects for the operating system's rivals, particularly Windows Phone, which offer a better user experience. He has a point - and Nokia is throwing its best engineering talent at Microsoft's mobile OS, particularly at the low-to-middle end of the market.
However, Windows Phone is merely a cog in the larger Microsoft machine, and the Windows world is now pretty fragmented itself. The Redmond giant botched its bold Metro-everywhere strategy, which was supposed to bludgeon a new software "ecosystem" into existence by allowing a developer to write code once, safe in the knowledge the application would run across fondleslabs, Windows 8 desktops, and Windows Phone
Instead, they have to maintain two or three codebases. This wasn't supposed to happen. For a developer with limited resources, iOS and Android are quite enough of a headache already.
For years El Reg wondered what the consumer electronics world would look like if the software was free. Now we know, and it's a rather depressing sight. Hardware manufacturers take the savings, pocket them, and cut the corners on the hardware.
For Samsung, Android has been a gift. The South Korean company was rampant at MWC 2013. The rest face a race to the bottom. ®