As the Indian smartphone market heads towards a semblance of maturity, we find a growing trend where the smartphone, for a majority of people, has become the first and the only gateway to the Internet. In such a scenario, the software that they use to access the Internet becomes vitally important especially from the standpoint of digital security. Nowadays, security updates on most mobile Operating Systems are bundled with version upgrades and therefore, the latest report from CMR is especially important when it comes to shedding light on the awareness of the masses and adoption of OS upgrades in the Indian smartphone ecosystem.
While we have established the importance of OS upgrades from a consumer standpoint, there still remains a question as to why smartphone manufacturers would want to provide software updates to already released devices. Earlier, for Android devices, only the premium smartphones were given software updates to newer versions while the greater affordable range of the market was left stagnated at the OS it was first launched with. That is because an overwhelming 72% of new buyers in the Android ecosystems are happy buying an older version of the OS as long as their hardware requirements are satisfied by the handset. While the Android fragmentation debate has been fought from the time immemorial, but this time, we take a unique look at the conundrum- the Indian customers perspective. Will this in-depth analysis help decode what the Indian smartphone buyer is looking for in the next flagship? Stick with us to find out.
Android: A Look at The OS Landscape
One might question, the rationale behind leaving the other OSes out and comparing only Android when it comes to the smartphone OS upgrade patterns. The answer lies in the fact that very few OSes have been able to make their mark in India. In fact, Android dominated with more than 90% of the market share. iOS and Windows lagged behind, with each of them grabbing around 2.3% of the market share in 2015. Despite all the market share or in a way because of it, Android users have lagged far behind their iOS counterparts with a meager 38% choosing to update their OS compared to a whopping 96% on Apple’s side. But how can an increased market share be a reason for Android falling behind the average rate of 48% when it comes to OS upgrades? The devil lies in the detail and in the next paragraph, we unravel how Android’s greatest USP is also it’s Achilles heel.
The Software Experience Across Price Ranges
One of the reasons for Android’s success has been that the brand has become ubiquitous with flexibility. From the Custom ROMs and UIs that let the customer choose how they want their phones to look like, to the price range of the devices, Android’s availability has fueled its market growth. However, software is not a one-time investment and like with any other OS as the vulnerabilities are discovered with time, the OEMs have to spend more time and money in figuring out patches and rolling them out to devices. In a country like India, where 76% of all smartphones are under the Rs. 10,000 (US$150) INR range, it becomes a costly affair for the manufacturers to take money out of the already wafer-thin margins, to spend on new OS upgrades. Hence, we find that only 24% of the phones in this price category come pre-installed with Android Lollipop and above.
While launching a smartphone at an affordable price range is fairly simple, upgrading it, so that it remains functional for a longer time period is quite an another story. In fact over the years, Android customers who have wanted quick and fast OS upgrades have opted for either the signature Nexus line from Google or high-end handsets.
With the ASP of Android devices coming down at a rate of 6% YoY, buying premium devices seems to have lost its charm, as most of the competitors catch up in terms of hardware and OS versions in the time period of 2 years. However, the worrying sign remains that almost 72% of the user base is still based on Kitkat or lower versions of the Android OS. It becomes difficult to single out a single OEM to blame, as none of them have come up as being particularly good in terms of rolling out updates.
In fact, Samsung, the largest smartphone OEM in India, is itself guilty of releasing newer models in the price conscious market with already deprecated versions of Android onboard. Over the course of 6 years, Google has pushed out 46 major updates to the Android platform, including 10 major ones but very few of them have been percolated to the end users. Now the apt question arises, why are Android OEMs so pathetic at supporting their own products? Our next segment answers that very question.
Custom UI: A Curse or A Blessing?
Before we take a look at the infographic above, let us first take a quick glance down the memory lane and ascertain why custom UI-s on Android devices came into existence. As the study had already shown us, that in the case of mobile ecosystems, the tightly regulated ones like iOS lets the users enjoy the latest on the OS as well as the hardware front. But Android being open sourced, Google allowed different OEMs like Samsung and HTC to customise the look of their devices from the very inception so that they could provide a better experience for the users. So where did it all go wrong?
Before we point a finger at Custom UIs or skins as they’re called in Android; let’s first find out if they’re the ones guilty at all! In our first infographic, Lenovo which included Motorola and Micromax which included Yu had a significantly higher number of devices being released with Lollipop onboard. Again, with the Lollipop updates, one of the brands which were the fastest to provide updates, was Motorola. What has all of this got to do with skins? Well, all of these manufacturers do not put much of a skin on any of their devices and instead, ship it with a custom UI that is almost similar to Google’s stock Nexus experience.
Now that we know that custom UIs are the main culprits along with OEMs shirking off their responsibilities, what can be done to rectify the situation of the Android users of India and in a larger context, the world finds themselves in? We provide a few solutions for OEMs to follow, as we round off this analysis.
More than 95% of the phones shipped these days, come with some form of custom UI or the other. In fact, as the Android OS grows in popularity, the user base is getting more aware. Around 31% of smartphone users are now aware of the different UIs available on top of stock Android and a vast majority of 68% perform these UI updates. However, there is a discord between the expectations of the consumer from these updates and the actual benefits that these UI updates deliver, as has been portrayed by the chart above.
So we decided to jot down a few points that companies can keep in mind to bridge this communication gap
- The range of smartphones between Rs 6,000-8,000, a category which has the most (22%) market share, gets the least priority for updates from OEMs. This has to change, as alienating the biggest portion of the consumer base is never a good strategy.
- While the big players like Xiaomi and Samsung have had a head start in the Custom UI game and have pushed several UI updates along with Android version updates, there still lies a significant chunk of the user base that is in the dark about the utilities of updating their OS. 62% of the users never updated their OS and this is an alarming statistic for the industry.
- Till now, major version upgrades has been scaled by switching to newer hardware, but with an increasing percentage of people looking into the used smartphone market, OEMs might have to rethink their software support strategies.
Google’s catchphrase for Android in recent years has been
Be together. Not the same.
and the difference in UIs and customization options is a manifestation of the same philosophy. But the fragmentation in OS versions exposes Android users to various threats as well and hinders Google from providing its users with an optimum experience. Maybe in the future, we will see them enforcing stringent rules on OEMs to enable a unified version of Android, that differs in functionality without compromising on security!