AH Headliner: Android's Fragmentation Issues Look Set To Continue


Right on cue, the team behind Android recently released their latest figures detailing the current operating system's distribution. This always makes for interesting reading as it provides an overview of how Android currently looks. Although, at the superficial level, it is good to see how the latest version of Android is doing, whether it is climbing and its adoption rate, there is a more serious and consistent undertone at play here. This is the idea of the fragmentation of Android.

It is no secret that Android is highly fragmented and any of the monthly figures will highlight this with the number of versions of the operating system still active. In fact, as the figures show, much older versions like Gingerbread still show signs of activity, which although dropping, are dropping very slowly and largely being maintained at a consistent level over a monthly period. The issue of fragmentation though is much more prevalent for the newer version of Android. For instance, the latest version, Android 5.0 (Lollipop) took its time in actually arriving on devices. This was partly due to the complex (and again fragmented) approach to the way in which Android updates work. This means that Lollipop was slow to roll out to begin with. Although, a few months back there was what seems to be a spurt in activity with Lollipop jumping up in terms of the distribution. Shortly afterwards however, the spurt quickly subsided and last month began to show Lollipop distribution increases occurring at a much-reduced rate. In fact, this was pretty much the case yesterday, when the latest report came in and again noted a 2.9-percent increase in Lollipop from August. This brought the total number of devices currently running Lollipop up to 21-percent.


August android distribution 2

But here is where things become interesting. If we rewind to the last year and when Android 4.4 (KitKat) was the new kid in town, KitKat for September, was noted as having a 24.5-percent share of the distribution. Needless to say, that's more than Lollipop currently has. If you go back the year before to when Jelly Bean was all the rage, the distribution for September 2013 saw Jelly Bean occupying 45.1-percent of the distribution. Of course, you can argue that there was fewer versions of Android when Jelly Bean came out and therefore, easier to grab the bigger percentage. Likewise for KitKat, when comparing to Lollipop. And this is true. However, it still does not avoid the obvious, that by this time of the year, KitKat had a lesser adoption rate than Jelly Bean and now Lollipop has a lesser adoption rate than KitKat.



To make matters worse for Android, it is largely expected that the next version of Android, Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) is going to be released in the coming weeks and the whole process will likely start again. This will mean the majority share of smartphones running Android will be very firmly split between Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop and Marshmallow. In fact, once 6.0 does lands, it is likely most manufacturers will shift focus to Marshmallow and Lollipop will begin to see its distribution presumably beginning to curtail. Not to mention, if by September 2016, Marshmallow has a lower distribution figure than Lollipop's current 21-percent, then the issue will continue again. Although, by then, Android will be even more fragmented and Android N will be right around the corner.

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John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]

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