The Worst Android Fragmentation is Yet to Come

By  |  Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 9:42 am

At the Android developers website, Google has some ostensibly encouraging statistics: More than three quarters of Android users are now running version 2.1 or higher.

The stats are based on how many people have accessed the Android Market in the last two weeks, so while it’s not a completely accurate measurement of total phones, it does help developers understand what versions are most popular among app shoppers. At this point, app makers can use tools and features specific to Android 2.x and still reach the majority of active Android owners.

But with more updates on the way, this seemingly unified market isn’t going to last. Android 2.3 is rumored to be coming soon, and Android 3.0 will follow. Though we don’t know whether existing phones will get either of these upgrades, Android’s track record isn’t encouraging.

Most Android phones have received no more than one major upgrade in their lifetimes. T-Mobile’s G1 started at 1.5 and halted at 1.6. (As pointed out below, the G1 had several updates over its lifetime.) The Droid Eris went from 1.5 to 2.1. LG’s Optimus moved from 1.6 to 2.1. A notable exception is Motorola’s Droid, which started with a stock version of Android 2.0 and has received two subsequent upgrades, but I don’t see a lot of wireless carriers and handset manufacturers scrambling to upgrade their custom builds more than once.

For this year’s top-shelf Android phones, such as Motorola’s Droid X and HTC’s Evo 4G, their upgrade was from 2.1 to 2.2. Again, I don’t know whether they’ll advance further,  but I wouldn’t count on a speedy rollout if so; the biggest spike in Android 2.2 use was between August and September, three months after its release, and Samsung Galaxy S owners are still waiting for their upgrade.

More than ever, this is a major concern because of Android’s explosive growth over the last year. If the latest phones don’t get newer versions in a timely manner, there’s going to be lots of fragmentation all over again.


Read more: 

13 Comments For This Post

  1. Chris Says:

    Motorola's original Droid was released in November of 2009 on Android 2.0 and had an update to 2.01 in December of 2009. It went on to get an upgrade to 2.1 and 2.2 in 2010. This means it officially ran 4 different versions of the Android operating system. So far.

  2. JaredNewman Says:

    I'm counting major upgrades only.

  3. Tim Conneally Says:

    "Dessert upgrades"

  4. @Fourthletter58 Says:

    If you're counting major upgrades only then why say the worst has yet to come, nearly everyone will be on Android 2.
    The update to 2.1 is launching this month for the Xperia X10 so the 1.6 piece will be a lot smaller by Xmas.

  5. Mike Cerm Says:

    Each iPhone has been supported for 3 YEARS, with certain hardware-dependent features arbitrarily withheld in the 3rd year, e.g. no video for the 2g, no multitasking for 3g. People, myself included, have complained about this.

    But compare that with the Samsung Moment, the HTC Hero, and the Droid Eris; each was less that 1 year old when their respective manufacturers (well, carriers) stopped providing updates. None will receive Froyo, despite the fact that Froyo was released less than a year from the date the phones first went on sale. (In the case of the 2 Sprint phones, Sprint is still selling the abandoned hardware.)

    It's criminal that the carriers are signing people to 2-year contracts and pulling the plug on software updates 6 months later. Imagine if Apple did this with the iPhone… Or how about Microsoft, who's STILL providing bug-fixes to Windows XP (after 9 years). Imagine if they had just totally abandoned XP the second that Vista or Windows 7 launched… there would be lawsuits as far as the eye could see!

  6. JaredNewman Says:

    My mistake, I've posted a correction.

  7. Ryan Patterson Says:

    Talk about whipping a dead horse. There is no fragmentation in the Android OS. There is however pour support from the device manufacturers and service providers. These are two completely different topics though.

  8. Ryan Says:

    That sorta seems like you're just arguing semantics.

    Personally? I think if manufacturers gave us a choice of vanilla (ha ha) Android for our device in the latest version, or TouchWiz/Sense/etc version in an older version, everybody would be happy. But really, why do manufacturers insist on doing custom UIs any way? Sense is nice, but people are going to stop buying phones with Sense if it means that they can't upgrade their phone past the next 1 or 2 upgrades.

    But then… Is your average phone going to be *usable* for more than 1 or 2 major upgrades? Who knows? Today's devices are getting better and better, and it seems like Google isn't adding too much bloat to Android in later versions (if 2.2 is any indication, running FASTER than previous versions) as compared to Apple. But I guess time will tell.

  9. sjhwilkes Says:

    The US carriers are at fault here, insisting on so much customization and control over the handset software. Green with envy at the Europeans who have standards that the various networks follow and the ability to switch SIM cards and networks.

  10. Patrick Says:

    And the average Android phone user couldn't care less. I think if your phone is less then 2 years old it should be updated to the latest OS but that's me. If you had to go to Googles web site to update your phone I would be interested to see how many Android users would update their phones on their own. I believe there is a large portion of smart phone users that don't know what they have in their hands. As long as it makes calls, surfs the web and they can add an app or two that they think are cool then they don't know or care what version of an OS they are using. I believe this belief is backed up by the figures showing that some 30% if iPad owners have yet to download a single app.

  11. JaredNewman Says:

    I'll agree that the word "fragmentation" probably doesn't cross the mind of your garden-variety smartphone shopper, but I think you're discounting the importance of a healthy app store. A fragmented market makes life harder for developers, and slows the introduction of new apps and features. Maybe an average consumer doesn't consider those things, but I'm willing to wager that our readers do. 🙂

    Also, that iPad statistic was retracted due to an error, and is now stated to be 9 percent:

  12. render Says:

    "If you had to go to Googles web site to update your phone" – you do realize this isnt possible because every manufacturer forks android right?

    "There is no fragmentation in android" – Are you insane? Do you not realize that every Android deploy on every phone is a fork of Android?

    Saying that users dont care about upgrading android is a funny statement. Do they not care because the only reason they bought an android phone is that the iPhone wasnt available on their network in the first place? In which case, you may be right, they dont care because they bought a phone they didnt really want in the first place due to a termination fee. Why should they care? It only reminds them of a decision they were not allowed to make.

  13. Mansoor Says:

    This is sensible. Android 2.1 owns!