The newest Android distribution chart is out, courtesy of Google. It contains data of the first week of May 2015. These charts are always interesting to see and comment on, because of the unique, controversial nature of the Android update scenario.
After several missteps along the way such as the mythical Android Update Alliance, for the past few years everyone has accepted the situation of Android updates.
Everyone’s accepted it because they know it’s not going to change. What with the reality of open-source AOSP Android, Google Android and OEM skinned Android – things were always going to be a mess, and marketing strategies are even more so.
Artificial obsolescence. That’s what it’s all about. Remind me to explain more on a future date, but moving on…
It’s 2015 and the world has now seen the rise of Android 5.x Lollipop. It hasn’t been straightforward to say the least. An update as big as Lollipop would never be adopted so fast. Of course that’s correct.
But nobody anticipated the problems that Lollipop would actually bring. For many it was a disaster, especially the original releases. Although Google fixed many of the Lollipop problems via updates, others are still remaining. Case in point: the memory leaks, which still haven’t been entirely fixed in the latest Android 5.1.
The current situation
Now, Android versions with less than 0.1% distribution share are no longer shown, and Android 2.2 Froyo, released five years ago, is in sight of that number with installations of 0.7% on all Android hardware. Which is good news for all parties involved.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread, that version of Android which refuses to die and was the most popular far beyond its time, still lives on. Its found on 5.7% of Android devices, which may sound small but is actually staggering once you consider the entire Android base.
Next up we have Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (Honeycomb died a while back). Ice Cream Sandwich was never as popular as Gingerbread, in part thanks to its increased hardware requirements, so it’s no surprise to see it at 5.3% of Android devices. The vast majority of these will never, ever receive an update.
Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich… What comes after that? Jelly Bean, of course. For a time, Android 4.1 gained the mantle of being the most popular Android version, but now it’s found on 15.6% of devices.
Rather predictably, Android 4.2 is more popular, installed on 18.1% of Android hardware. This is because of one reason: MediaTek. There were hundreds and thousands of budget MediaTek phones released on this Android version which never saw the 4.3 update or in fact any other Android update.
So Android 4.3 has only 5.5% of distribution share. It’s because it had a comparatively shorter life span, having only six months to stay as the latest Android before KitKat arrived. And it wasn’t a major update in the first place – even though it did have a huge performance boost for many devices with TRIM.
The hardware which came pre-installed with Android 4.3 is relatively newer hardware, therefore most devices received the KitKat update, the ones which didn’t are unfortunately still stuck.
Popularity: KitKat vs. Lollipop
Then, we come to Android 4.4 KitKat, released in November 2013. Right now, it’s the most popular Android version by far, beating all three versions of Jelly Bean combined and having four times the distribution share as its successor, Lollipop. Found on 39.8% of all Android hardware, this is one OS you cannot afford to take lightly.
The best feature of KitKat was the reduced hardware requirements, which made it possible for budget phones to move on from Gingerbread and offer a more modern experience. The overall usability of these low-end may be just good enough, but it’s enough for many markets.
And when you think of it, the KitKat roll-out was a lot smoother than the current Lollipop scenario. The roll-out was faster too, and the OS was less buggier to boot. Some people will make the argument that it wasn’t as major an Android update as Lollipop, what with nearly the same design. And of course that’s perfectly true.
But there are flaws too. Don’t forget that for many power users KitKat is one of the worst versions of Android by far, in one scenario. That is, support for microSD card storage, which was crippled. Such a bug didn’t exist in Jelly Bean and it was fixed by Google in Lollipop. It made the SD card slot nearly useless.
So of course, KitKat may have been great, but it needed a successor and on the face of it, Lollipop was that awesome successor. However, the initial adoption rates weren’t great.
Lollipop adoption rates: slowly improving
Android 5.x Lollipop is now found on 9.7% of all Android hardware. Of this, version 5.0 has distribution share of 9% while the cutting-edge Android 5.1 is only found on 0.7% of Android devices. Which puts the popularity of Nexus devices in the mainstream in the proper perspective.
Why, though? It’s because for the most part, the only devices to have received the Android 5.1 update are Nexus devices. Even the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the HTC One M9, the first mainstream flagships of 2015 are yet to receive the update.
This means they’re missing out on essential features like Device Protection and fixes for various memory leaks.
Of course, the upcoming LG G4 will have 5.1 Lollipop built-in, but a single phone is hardly likely to set the adoption statistics on fire.
What does this mean? Simply put, Lollipop has a long and up-hill task ahead when it comes to being on more Android hardware. Of course there’s going to be newer hardware with Lollipop built-in. But really, that’s besides the point.
What matters is the state of software updates. Which, even after multiple efforts, Google Play services and the war against fragmentation, remains pathetic. To say the least.
The majority of 2014 flagship phones have received the update, but software stability varies wildly. As for 2013 flagships, it’s a mixed bag. And for mid-range phones of both years, it’s an even more mixed bag. When it comes to budget phones, there’s nothing to say, since there’s nothing to talk about.
Sadly, regrettably and depressingly, there’s a lot more work to do here, everyone.