Expectations for Android 4.0 to ease fragmentation are not working
Fragmentation for Android has been a much discussed topic in recent years as Google continues to roll out newer versions of their mobile OS and quite often leaving existing mobile device owners behind with no upgrade path. Not all of the problem is directly tied to Google as they must rely on wireless carriers and manufacturers to update their recent versions to operate correctly on the devices and on the networks. Manufacturers want to put their interface on top of what Google has developed and wireless carriers want to add their customization as well. This delays the entire process by a few months to not happening at all. Yet, Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS seem to have overcome most if not all of those delays.
While some may believe Android fragmentation is not all that bad, the reality is that it makes it very difficult for consumers and developers a like. In the above chart from Google showing a 14 day period ending on March 5th, you can see the big fragmentation which Android is facing. Android 2.3 is commanding a huge 61.5% of the Android market as showing in the related listing below. Given that Gingerbread has been out for more than a year, this is disturbing information. The fact that Ice Cream Sandwich has only 1.6% makes things even worse.
Google has been releasing SDK versions to developers rather frequently so that they can be developing apps for mobile devices and then released to manufacturing companies. While some believe that apps are not critical to a mobile device OS release, it keeps being demonstrated as developers get copies of the OS months prior to its release so they can develop up to date versions of their apps. Here is a list of the SDK releases to developers over the years for major Android versions and the information comes from WikiPedia with release of the latest OS to the public a few months later:
- Android 1.0 (Beta) – Sept. 2008
- Android 1.1 – Feb. 2009
- Android 1.5 (Cupcake) – April 2009
- Android 1.6 (Donut) – Sept. 2009
- Android 2.0 (Eclair) – Oct. 2009
- Android 2.2 (Froyo) = May 2010
- Android 2.3 (Gingerbread – December 2010
- Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) – Feb. 2011
- Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich – Oct. 2011
- Android 5.0 (Jelly Bean) – Estimated Q2/Q3 2012
As you can see, they are putting out new versions at the rate of 2 per year. Ice Cream Sandwich arrived on the Galaxy Nexus in December 2011 at Verizon, but the upgrade of existing smart phones and tablets has been extremely slow to be done. The new Galaxy Note was rumored to arrive with ICS, but ended up with Gingerbread (Android 2.3.5) in February. It is supposed to have gotten Android 4.0 in Q1, but now that has been delayed until some time in Q2. The same situation exists for many other phone and tablet manufacturers over 90 days after the first device received ICS. While there are some receiving it this month, that list is rather small as compared to the Android market.
There are growing rumors that Google is going to be releasing Jelly Bean (Android 5.0) in Q3 which is going to further muddy the water and make things even more less clear as to what the upgrade paths are for mobile device owners. As an owner, it makes it far more difficult in 2012 to know whether an Android device is the way to go because of all the fragmentation and upgrade limitations. While Android can be considered a much better OS than others, the current ICS upgrade path and delays brings that into question.
There are other reports showing the adoption rate of iOS 5.1 from MacRumors indicating a quick pick up in upgrades. Based on the general information, adoption of iOS 5.1 seems to be at 50% within the first 5 days that it was out and available. Part of that is due to Apple’s ability to control the marketplace and not let wireless carriers make changes to Apple’s iOS. Apple also has end to end control of the entire process which Android does not have. That is a big advantage and why they can provide backward compatibility to the iPhone 3GS. Android OS upgrade paths do not even come close to that backward compatibility.
Even Microsoft is having a far better time with fragmentation than Google is with their Android OS. Windows Phone 7 updates are not happening near as fast as Apple’s iOS, but are far better than Google’s Android OS. With their upgrade to Mango, 30% of Windows Phone 7 devices had Mango installed within 16 days after it was made available to owners. Since Microsoft has not been in the market that long, this is a great number.
Google needs to start making changes as to how things are done for handling updates to their OS on all the mobile devices which are out there. The adoption rate for Ice Cream Sandwich can be considered as horrible by just about any standard you want to apply. If Microsoft is able to get a good adoption rate in less than 30 days, why is it that Google can not?