“Fragmented” doesn’t sound good, no matter how you spin it. So it’s no wonder that Google boss Eric Schmidt tried to re-position the growing number of releases and versions of his company’s Android OS as “differentiation” at this week’s CES 2012. It’s also no wonder that most observers, such as CNET’s Stephen Shankland, cried foul. After all, folks have been talking Android fragmentation for more than a year now. It’s too late to get ahead of that curve.

As of October 2011, several leading Android devices had been released and/or were running on OSs that were more than one version behind the current major release, according to this interesting chart at TechCrunch. Out-of-date is just one definition of “fragmented,” of course, and does not necessarily speak to concerns about “differentiated” versions released by specific device vendors, such as Amazon with its Kindle.

A post by ZDNet blogger Tom Foremski cites a well-circulated post by entrepreneur Antonio Rodriguez, who called Android’s future as the “mortar” of the post-PC Internet a “charred corpse.” Rodriguez claims three key events lit Android’s funeral pyre:

  • Google buying Motorola and getting into the handset market
  • Microsoft getting IP licensing fees from Android handset makers
  • And, of course, Kindle

However, “forking” tends to be the fate of most freely distributed software. The fact that Apple iOS devices all run neatly on the same operating system looks tidy in the TechCrunch chart, but, as Foremski notes, many telecos don’t want to be put in the same corner as PC manufacturers, who operate on slim margins, while a near-monolithic OS/chip consortium sucks most of the juice out of their market.

The same market dynamic may face developers, as well. A piece at GigaOM last month on the release of an SDK to span Kindle Fire and Nook Color “differentiations” deals with the forking of Android in a matter-of-fact tone (sorry, Mr. Schmidt). In fact, it even goes so far as to suggest that the Kindle and Nook may be more fertile grounds for developers who are actually looking to sell applications, since users are primarily customers of for-fee content the second they pick up the devices.