Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) owned Android OS is the most dominant OS in the world running on 80% of all handheld devices. The latest version of Android, named KitKat, was released last year along with the LG Nexus 5 smartphone and Nexus 7 tablet. Adoption of the new OS has been slow at best, with just 5.3% of all Android devices running on it, since its release almost six months ago. This lack of adoption is a worry for Google, as it means several app developers will need to downgrade their apps to be compatible across all the previous versions of Android. Android is not a profitable platform either and this discourages developers even further.
Android 4.4 KitKat Unable To Grow As Fast As iOS 7
In terms of adoption of its latest OS, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS 7 dominates when compared with Android 4.4 KitKat. Android 4.1 Jelly bean is the most popular version of Android OS running on 61.1% of devices. Between March and April of 2014, KitKat gained 2.9% increase, as new flagship devices have been launched, which feature the latest version of Android. Apple iOS 7 is running on nearly 87% of iPhone and iPad combined, while only 11% of users are still stuck with the earlier version of iOS 6. Adoption rates for iOS are usually high, and this ensures that a developer can release an app on the App store, without fears of incompatibility between different OS versions.
Google’s New Strategy
Even if Google wanted to release it software updates to every single Android phone at once it would not be possible since smartphone manufacturers add their own modifications to a version of Android and the update needs to be approved by each individual carrier in many countries. Apple does a better job with iOS since it’ s the only OEM using its own platform. If Google were to do the same with Nexus program or Google Edition devices, the fragmentation across both platforms will be the same. The company has tried to accelerate the process, the problem is almost inherent to the mobile and telecom industry.
Google has skirted the issue of fragmentation all together by offering its stock apps on the Play Store directly, giving it greater control over its development cycle. These apps require a specific version of Android, but most of them usually support the last few versions. Such a strategy pulls the focus away from the major Android updates, and subsequently away from international carriers and OEMS. Google currently has 50 of its own apps in the Play store which include Google Keyboard, Play Music and Google Maps.
In the same manner, Google Play Services ensures that developers can integrate core Android OS functionality into their apps without waiting for firmware updates. Google is steadily realizing that pushing out version updates with apps is the necessary means for side steeping the OS issue. This is Google’s best option for moving forward even if bloatware continues to nag users constantly. All it can do for the moment is to simplify its own apps and offer a better experience for users than iOS devices.
Project Hera: Android 4.5
Google’s next version of Android, codenamed Lolipop and also rumored as Project Hera, is aimed to provide a unified Android experience and t fix all challenges in regards to Android fragmentation. The project is meant to represent Google’s effort to combine the different experiences users have on Android, Chrome and Search on their Android devices. Android Police reports that this redesign would essentially overhaul the look and feel of all Google’s core apps. Basically, Hera will replace the multi tasking view, bringing mini-HTML5 applets that let users perform specific functions without opening the full version of the apps. Google wants to bring Google search and Chrome technology to the forefront of mobile and desktop experience, while also providing a flawless experience regardless of whichever device is being used. Google is already using Google Now cards and Project Hera promises to be its expansion, signalling the company’s intent to take Android interface to a new level. If the rumors are correct, we could see the most significant change to Android since Android version 4.0.
Another approach to solve the issue, rather than avoiding it, is through Google’s rumored Android’s Silver Project. Through this project, the search engine giant aims to provide a premium Android device along with the best of services and features. Project Android Silver aims to promote a device that would be on par with an Apple product while providing customer care and other benefits. Such a flagship device would sell at a subsidized price and carry the latest version of Android. This would place Android OS on par with iOS.
Fragmentation is a serious issue for Android and these rumors signify Google’s intention to increase its control of the ecosystem. After giving Android OS to the world to free, Google is looking to prove it as a polished product. If these rumors are confirmed, the search giant will have taken an important step in cementing its OS dominance.