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Google Android has been gaining massive traction in the open source handset world and has literally taken to smartphones like a storm. This year alone, HTC plans to release at least a dozen new Android devices, whereas the company was previously better known with their expensive Windows Mobile devices. HTC has probably become Google’s #1 fan when they released the world’s first Android powered phone and they are also behind the world’s first Google-branded phone, the Nexus One.

However the rapid growth of Android has been rather alarming. No sooner did Android 1.0 launch, Google engineers were already working on the 1.5 Cupcake update, followed a few months later by the 1.6 Donut. Every week, new updates to Android were being pushed out at a frenetic pace.

The upside is that the operating system has some of the best features that can be found on the smartphone market, bar none. Although iPhone OS came first when the iPhone launched a good few years ago, they still lacked basic functions like multitasking and copy & paste whereas Android has already received such features – and more – in the short span of a few months!

The growth and fragmentation of Android became a problem, however. Currently there are three versions available, the 1.5, 1.6 and 2.1 update. Why are there such fragmentation? It’s partly to do with the myriad of devices that are currently out on the market, each with different configurations of RAM, Processing power, graphics chips, etc. It’s quickly becoming a nightmare for Android developers to keep all these devices chugging on a single build of Android and thus we end up with this situation.

Google has acknowledged the situation and is reportedly working on a way to reintegrate all of Android’s features under one common release which will be able to function across all devices, no matter how powerful (or weak) their hardware is. It’s certainly no easy feat, given even Apple, which has controlled the hardware specs of all their iPhones, are still slow in developing their own operating system.

Froyo will be the next big Android release and Google promise to unify all the different flavours of Android all under this one roof. Of course, you can’t expect the latest and greatest feature to work on a 2 year old HTC Dream/G1, so the new update will detect the hardware capabilities of your phone and configure itself accordingly in order to provide an optimal user experience without bogging down the hardware. Sounds good so far. Rumors have it that later this year, Google plans to move all devices over to the 2.1 firmware, yes even the old venerable G1, and solve the big problem of platform fragmentation once and for all.

For the consumer, we may finally see the year when Android stops being a Geek’s wet dream and a serious consumer-level smartphone operating system.