Android’s Fragmentation Won’t Fly in the Mobile Enterprise

Google (s goog) is hoping to become a major player in the mobile enterprise with Honeycomb, an updated version of Android built specifically for tablets. But it will have to fix its fragmentation problem if it wants to compete in an increasingly crowded market.

The Internet giant recently warned that it will withhold early access to Android upgrades for partners who fail to get Mountain View’s approval for tweaks to the software. That move followed March’s introduction of new tools designed to help developers address older versions of its operating system and bring some of Honeycomb’s features to smartphones.

Android’s fragmentation has yet to affect most consumers (as evidenced by Android’s expanding share of the U.S. smartphone OS market), but developers have definitely taken notice: addressing the entire base of Android handsets with a single build is a tall task for some. A whopping 86 percent of Android developers said fragmentation is at least something of a problem, according to new research from Robert W. Baird & Co.; 55 percent believe it’s a “meaningful” or “huge” problem.

Fragmentation can be merely annoying when you’re using a smartphone’s virtual slingshot to kill pigs with fowl in Angry Birds, but Google has its eye on the enterprise tablet market, and those problems are simply unacceptable when it comes to business applications. Even more importantly, those snafus are far more troubling on the tablets the newest version of Android was developed for, because they provide a more immersive experience. A graphical error becomes much more obvious on the larger screen of a tablet, for instance, and user interface glitches are more irritating.

Android’s growing worldwide distribution ensures that developers of games and other genres of entertainment apps will continue to churn out titles for the platform regardless of its fragmentation problems. But the options for mobile enterprise developers are quickly expanding beyond the iPad (s aapl) to include RIM’s (s rimm) upcoming PlayBook and Hewlett Packard’s (s hpq) TouchPad, which will launch this summer. So to lure developers of business-targeted offerings on tablets, Google will need to demonstrate that applications can run effectively and consistently across all of those Android tablets that are coming to market. For more thoughts about why Google must solve Android’s fragmentation to conquer the mobile enterprise, please see my weekly column at GigaOM Pro (sub. required).

Image source: Flickr user zipckr.