Android Fragmentation Still Remains An Issue For Google, But It May Not Be As Bad As You Think

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Google, owned by Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) recently released data on Android OS version distribution data, and the story is much the same as it has always been with Android. As we have come to expect, there remains a great degree of Android fragmentation in the user-base when it comes to the version of Android their devices are running on. According to the data, Android Nougat (7.0, 7.1) still remains the most widely adopted version of Android, with 29.3% of devices now running on the OS that was initially released over 2 years ago.

The Adoption of Android OS Version

However, this is not a great improvement over February 2018, when adoption of Nougat came in at 28.5%. In contrast, the proportion of devices running Android Marshmallow (6.0) fell from 28.1% in February to 21.6% in September 2018. The story is similar for other older versions of Android, with both Lollipop (5.0, 5.1) and KitKat losing distribution share from 24.6% and 12% in February 2018 to 18.3% and 7.8% in September 2018, respectively. The older legacy version of Android (Jelly Bean, Ice Cream Sandwich and Gingerbread) only accounted for less than 4% of devices altogether.

The good news for Google here is that adoption of Android Oreo (8.0, 8.1), which was released in 2017 has picked up significantly over the past 6 months. In February of 2018, Oreo only accounted for about 1.1% of all Android devices, despite being out for over 6 months. However, since then, the adoption of Oreo has reached a cumulative 19.2% for both versions 8.0 and 8.1.

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The latest Android Pie 9.0 has less than 0.1% distribution share as of the time of writing, but that is likely because it has barely been a month since its release, and it is yet to roll-out for a number of popular Android devices. If we consider the recent trend, it might take a while for the adoption of Android 9.0 to reach relevant levels. The bad news for Google is that fragmentation in OS versions remains as big a problem as ever for Android. Android KitKat retains a significant proportion of the distribution share, despite being almost 5 years old! Distribution is also fairly evenly spread out over the last 4 versions of Android (older than Android 9.0), with distribution share ranging from 19-30%.

A while ago, in another thought-provoking analysis, we highlighted the Android’s worrying OS fragmentation and update problem. We outlined the various factors behind this issue, as well as Google’s modus operandi for fixing it.

At first glance, it would seem that Google failed miserably in their quest to fix Android’s homogeneity issue, especially compared to it’s closest rival – Apple’s iOS. As of September 3, 2018, 85% of all iPhones and iPads run iOS 11, which was the latest version of iOS until the launch of iOS 12 a couple of weeks ago.

However, this is not necessarily a total failure on Google’s part. Android updates no longer hold the same level of importance they once did, with Google Play Services updates and OEM security patches now addressing many security vulnerabilities.

We also have to consider that given Android’s smartphone market share (over 88% in Q2 2018), some level of fragmentation may just be a natural consequence of the sheer volume of devices out there. Nevertheless, Google’s newer annual release cycle for new versions of Android could help facilitate deeper penetration and less fragmentation in the future. However, that doesn’t mean fragmentation isn’t still a problem. Users stuck on older versions often miss out on newer features and UI/security improvements, thus missing out on an optimal experience, and currently, only about 442 million out of over 2.3 billion daily active Android users are keeping up with the latest and greatest that Android has to offer.

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The changing scenario of Android version market share may not require Google to act or panic immediately, but it’s surely hinting at the need of far-reaching action – only if Google wants Android to stay competitive to iOS.

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