Data from the Android developers site suggests that lots of phones are running 2.1 – but there's something missing from what we're being told which may mean it's exaggerated.
How fragmented is the Android platform? Google knows. And it's quite interesting. The problem is that it's not quite ready to tell us in detail. Only with winks and nudges.
The chart above comes from data on its developer site about versions accessing the Android Market for apps. A point to note: there's only one Android device out there which is running 2.2 (aka "Froyo"), and that's the Google Nexus One. Which has been discontinued.
However, some of the other phones can be upgraded to 2.2; it will be interesting to see what sort of timescale there is on that.
But what must be encouraging for the folks at Google, and Android developers, is that 2.1 is so dominant in that pie chart. (There's a tiny fraction, 0.3%, consisting of "incompatible versions" – not sure what those would be.)
Because certainly the biggest threat – and the biggest problem – for Android developers is platform fragmentation. Old version of Android can't run apps that target more recent versions, though old apps can run on the new platform. (Think of it as being like Windows. Sort of.) But the later Android versions have all sorts of features that you don't get on the others. (You can see the version feature comparison on Wikipedia.)
The timings of the version releases:
1.5: 30 April 2009
1.6: 15 September 2009
2.1: 12 January 2010
2.2: 20 May 2010
That means that this chart covers just one year (roughly).
The notable things that 2.2 has that 2.1 hasn't? Adobe Flash 10.1 support [corrected]; "remote wipe"; Wi-Fi hotspot function; voice dialling over Bluetooth. So now the question is how soon operators (particularly UK operators) will be pushing 2.2 out to Android customers. The suspicion is that the answer is "not soon", given that 2.1 only just made its way (via an over-the-air – OTA – update).
And be wary – very wary – of trusting these graphics as really indicating the preponderance of Android versions out there. What we don't know, because these graphs don't show us, is:
– whether people with newer versions of Android are more likely to access the Android Market (that would push the share for newer versions upwards: and it seems likely, since I'd be very surprised if Nexus Ones really were 3% of all Android phones sold)
– what proportion of Android apps are written for what version of Android. Although Android apps are forwards-compatible (ie if it's written for 1.5, it will run on 1.5 and every successive release), you'd certainly be put off visiting the Market if you went there once on a 1.5 or 1.6 phone and found that pretty much everything required a later version: you wouldn't go very much more. That would also push the numbers towards the later versions, and make it look like the more recent versions are doing better. (If you know any data about what proportion of apps in the Market target which version, do tell us in the comments.)
Here's how the access has changed, according to Google. But again, the same uncertainties prevail: how many? Are people put off? What's the real growth?
True, Android sales have accelerated this year and 2.1 is getting more prevalent. But that comparatively big chunk of 2.2 accesses indicates, to me anyway, that this is a distorted picture of what handsets out there are truly running.
Of course Google could help us to dispel this all by publishing how many accesses there actually were, and how many downloads. Whereas Apple likes throwing out numbers from the App Store, which gets lots of people going "ooo!", the problem is that there's nothing much to compare it with. Come on, Google, get into the game. You said there were 160,000 activations per day. Now tell us about Android Market transactions. It's the least you could do.
Well, that, and pushing the network operators and/or handset makers to push out version 2.2.