If you follow Engadget at all, you know that their journalists are pretty unbiased. If there's anything they collectively hate, however, it's Android fragmentation.
The Android OS is on many different devices (Google phones, Motorola's Droid line, HTC phones, and Samsung phones, as in their Galaxy S line). Each of these hardware manufacturers are able to put their own "skin" (or UI) over the stock Android software. They do this to differentiate their phones from the competitor's and to make any "improvements" that they see fit. The skins have various names: MotoBlur (Motorola), Sense UI (HTC), TouchWiz (Samsung). These are the most popular, and are put on top of the stock Android software that you find on the Nexus 1 and Nexus S (Samsung's only Galaxy S phone without TouchWiz).
What the consumer gets then, is a wide variety of devices all running the same software (Android) but with very different user interfaces. In other words, a Motorola user could be very confused when they pick up a Samsung device. Confusion, however, is the least of the consumer's problem.
When a new version of Android is released it takes time for the hardware manufacture to put their trademark skin over that software. Their devices, in turn, are unable to be updated to the latest version of the Android OS until the manufacture puts out their updated version. This might not be so bad, except lately some manufactures have decided to not even put out the newest version of the skinned Android OS to their older phones. Users with phones that are a year old are left in the dust, while only brand new users get the latest software coupled with the latest hardware.
A great example of this is when the latest version of the mobile Android OS was released, Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The flagship Android 2.3 phone was the Nexus S, which (surprisingly) ran stock Gingerbread with no TouchWiz UI. This was a great update to Android and was praised as such. However, many phones could not be updated. Some phones, such as in Samsung's Galaxy S line, had yet to be updated to 2.2 Froyo, let alone 2.3!
How does this affect the consumer in the long term? What we end up getting is a host of Android devices all running different versions of the software under skins that arguably subtract from the best Android experience possible. If you buy a phone now, there's no guarantee that you will receive the next Android update when it comes out, months after it comes out, or ever. Some users may be ok with this, as they might not update their phone even if the update was available. This mentality seems to work fine at first, but what about when a security issue is brought up about the current version of Android? I for one want the most updated software possible, to minimize issues like this.
Android fragmentation is very real and has the possibility to have a very negative effect on users, especially now, in the year of the tablets.
Have you experienced Android fragmentation? What are your thoughts on it?
Interested in what Google has to say? "Fragmentation...is a red herring"