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January 19, 2011

The Good News About Android's Version Distribution

When you develop a product and use liberal licensing terms, there's always the risk that someone else will use your code to create a poor product. Maybe it will include a lot of unnecessary features, it will be slow and have a lot of bugs or it will never use the latest version of your software.

Android's goal was to be a common baseline that enables innovation in the mobile space. Convincing other companies to use Android wasn't easy and that's one of the biggest Google accomplishments. Not many people believed in Android's success three years ago and its adoption rate is still surprising.

Convincing companies to update their Android-based firmware faster is much easier. If users only buy Android phones that have the latest version of the operating system and constantly request phone manufacturers and carriers to update the software, then they'll work harder to improve their products.

Google has recently released some information about the current distribution of the Android versions and the good news is that 87.4% of the Android phones use Android 2.x, up from about 55% in July. 51.8% of the phones use Froyo, a version released 7 months ago. In only one month (August 2010), Froyo's share grew from 5.5% to more than 28%, after Motorola and HTC updated phones like Droid, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G, and Desire.

ZDNet says that "almost 13% of Android users are still running versions of the mobile OS that are several generations old and these users will never see Android 2.1", but this percentage is constantly decreasing. Even if they're using Android 1.6, that's still a much better operating system than the one from a feature phone and it still lets them use many apps from the Android Market. A slower update rate is a small price to pay for creating an ecosystem of heterogeneous devices that run the same operating system which is not perfect, but it's "good enough".

{ image licensed as Creative Commons Attribution by Google }


  1. Thank you for responding to Apple fanboy at TechCrunch.

  2. Is android Really So Secure?

  3. 1.5 & 1.6 *percentage* are for sure constantly decreasing because of introduction of new devices, but the *quantity* of those terminal are probably not decreasing.

  4. I think that this post misses the point. Yes, 87% of Android phones out there run 2.x, but that means that less than 45% of the phones out there are running Froyo (version 2.2). There are WAY too many versions left in the wild. To think that there are still phones sold (although they are on no ones top 10) that run Android 1.6 (Sony Ericsson Xperia X10) is unconscionable. Then there are companies like Samsung and others hold back product updates so that they can sell more phones?!

    And let's not forget the Nexus One. This phone, christened the "Google Phone" has not received a Gingerbread (version 2.3) update yet. Based on that there is no roadmap for future updates for this anointed device. This is a phone that people went directly to Google and plopped down $500 or more dollars for because they were lured by the thought of receiving updates quickly and before everyone else.

    Don't get me wrong, I love the Android OS, I love it's maluability (?) and it's power, but don't try to glaze over the fact that fragmentation is an issue. One thing that Apple and Microsoft have gotten right is when you buy one of their phones they will all do the same thing across platforms and carriers. If Google continues with their fragmented strategy Android will begin to fail.

  5. Not quite fair: "Apple and Microsoft have gotten right is when you buy one of their phones they will all do the same thing across platforms and carriers.", as while related, that's not the issue discussed here -Many people run Win95, and I'm sure there's a few with win3.1! Same apples with IE and everything else in the world. Android ain't perfect, but it's still fairly new, and consumers need time to learn that with pnones, as with everything else, they need to KNOW what's 'latest' and demand what's latest.

    The nature of open source means Andoid can never control the market completely - though there are a few things Google could do - but that's a trade-off; if it wasn't open source, it wouldn't have grown so fast in take-up and tech terms.

  6. There are absolutely NO good news in this article!

    When did you last get a Security Update for your Phone? Read a very interesting article on the subject here:

    @Alex Chitu: I believe the questions and problems raised in that article is something really worth getting more attention to. Perhaps you could do a separate post on the topic?

  7. Android's fracturing is actually an indicator of why Android is succeeding: the multiplicity of devices. Device-multiplicity was why Nokia became the biggest handset manufacturer in the world. (Their failure to anticipate the innovation-growth in smartphones is another story).

    The iPhone is a fantastic device and probably (just about and for now) technically superior to the equivalent tope-nd android, but it is the Mao Suit of Technology. Ubiquitous and boring.


  9. Fragmentation and lack of consistency across devices will be Android's pitfall (and cause headaches for developers).

  10. I dont understand good news in the article. This effect depends only on temporary boost of new Android devices. The graph should be "weighted" with number of devices in given time points, that should give us a better overview!

  11. No one actually talks about Nokia here. The biggest mobile phone company in the world. How many older Symbian devices are getting the Symbian^3 update? Even the N900 would not get the Meego update officially.

  12. OS fragmentation is the major android failure. Froyo is now so old in mobile world.
    Google must do something against this fragmentation !

  13. I don't think this post makes me feel better about the android OS fragmentation issue. I used to have an iPhone and now I have a Samsung Galaxy. I love the Android OS but I hate the crapware that came with my Galaxy. It is one thing to allow the manufacturers to install some stupid application that drains the battery, but it is another when I can't uninstall it. I also want my Froyo. I will never buy another Samsung phone again.

    I also hate the fact that the next time I want to buy an Android phone I will have to do research to see which phone/company has a good record of updating the OS and not installing crapware.

  14. I use galaxy 5 and i manually flashed my phone to froyo and i guess i can only dream of gingerbread with another phone. This is bad. Seeing my pal with an old bb running the latest bb os annoys u especially when ur device is more than capable but u've just gotta wait for the manufacturers. This really needs to be addressed.

  15. thanks for shearing the information and i really liked it.

  16. @Andrew

    I think we are talking about two totally different products. Your reference to Win95 and 3.1 seems to indicate that you are talking about computers not mobile devices. If you want to consider computers consider the fragmentation of Android (Honeycomb for tablets) and ChromeOS (Laptop/Netbook). And when was the last time that you walked into a Best Buy to buy a Win95 computer, or even XP for that matter?

    Yes Android is open as far as Google is concerned. But I would argue that once they distribute it to carriers and manufacturers it is no longer open. Take Verizon's implementation of Bing as the default search engine on the Fascinate. As a consumer I cannot change the default search to Google or Yahoo or Ask if I want to. Carriers and manufacturers strip away that openness.

    With Apple and Microsoft there are no disingenuous marketing tactics. They say: You will always have the most up-to-date operating system as long as the hardware will support it. They do not let carriers and manufacturers get in the way (so far). In fact when you buy a Win Phone 7 device you can even delete any of the carrier crap-ware from the phone without modification of the operating system, this is something that you can't do with Android phones.

  17. Older versions of iPhone / iPod hardware don't support recent versions of iOS.

    And even for recent hardware, there is still fragmentation in iOS -- not all users are on the most recent version.

  18. Percentages can be very deceptive. The explosive growth that android is seeing lately means, lots of new devices in the market with the newer 2.x versions. This results in dwarfing the older numbers making their percentages shrink. In other words, if %ge of pre 2.x version goes down from let us say 20% to 10% in a year, that says nothing about how many of those devices were upgraded to a newer version, it could just means that the number of newer devices more than doubled with none of those devices updated. In fact the recent royal pingdom article does confirm this as they analyzed how much time manufacturers and carriers are taking to rollout updates.

  19. I'd like to see a meaningful response to John D's comment. Like John D, I look at that graph and see that 100% of the users are at risk for a flaw that's been known since Nov 2010.

    My questions:
    1) What is Google's policy for releasing security updates for older versions of Android?
    2) What does Google require of handset manufacturers and carriers as part of the deal for Android/Google branding on phones, ads, etc.?
    3) What can users of regular (non-Nexus, locked bootloader) Android phones do if their handset manufacturer or carrier drags their feet?

    My colleague's AT&T Galaxy is still running 2.1 update 1. He gets an error message trying to check for OS updates; apparently he can only get updates for apps from the marketplace. Is AT&T holding back Android security updates? Is Google not bothering to fix security bugs in 2.1 (as suggested by the URL John D linked to)?



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