For years now, “fragmentation” has been the bane of Android app developers. Because while iPhone and iPad developers know exactly what sorts of machines will be running their apps, and have only a handful of different kinds that they need to plan for, an Android developer can’t assume much of anything about the device that will be running her app. She has to design it to run on anything, from my tiny HTC Aria to a superphone like the Droid Bionic. Now the fragmentation problem is getting even worse. Tablets like the Barnes and Noble Nook Color, which technically run the open-source Android operating system under the hood, have their own app markets, and work differently enough that developers need to tweak apps just for them. That problem’s not going away, either, as the Amazon Kindle Fire basically works the same way … and charges $99 a year to publish to its (arguably abusive) “Appstore.” Meanwhile, HTC’s HTC Sense interface is so different from regular Android that it has its own site to teach app developers to write for it. Is this the end of Android as we know it? Maybe it’s just the beginning Let’s face it: Most Android smartphones and tablets just compete on specs. And if specs were what it took to sell smartphones, they’d have beaten the iPhone already. “But hasn’t Android beaten Apple already?” you ask. Yes, it has, marketshare-wise. That is, the combined number of all Android handsets being sold right now is greater than the combined total of all iPhones being sold. But Apple’s still growing in marketshare, and still getting people to line up outside of stores for its smartphones. It makes more money per device sold than any other smartphone company does … and when you consider that the fight is between Apple and every Android company put together, it starts to look a little one-sided. That’s because Apple makes a unique experience And every Android smartphone and tablet’s experience kinda resembles every other’s. The ones that stand out usually do so because of a unique hardware feature, like the 3d displays on recent LG and HTC smartphones, or the slide-out game controller on the Xperia Play. Aside from that, they’re basically identical. Companies like HTC are starting to realize that that is no way to compete with Apple. So while Samsung does its best to create “generic brand” Apple products, and Google tries to keep everyone using the same standard Android, others are forging their own trails and creating unique experiences. The result? Instead of “more Android tablets,” we get “the best Kindle ever,” and a new brand-name product called Nook. HTC itself is becoming a brand name, even if none of its phones or tablets are yet. Maybe this complicates things for app developers, but it makes it easier for people to decide what they want to get … and gives them compelling reasons to choose stuff that isn’t Apple’s.

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