Almost 40% of Android phones never ran a current version of Android, 83% still don’t run Gingerbread

It is no secret that Android fragmentation is a very real and very prominent issue despite it being denied by top Google brass. Now there is a chart by Michael DeGusta of The Understatement that puts the evidence Google claimed didn’t exist into black and white (red, yellow, orange and green, actually). Me Gusta DeGusta took all the Android phones that were sold in the U.S. market up until July 2010 and tracked the versions of Android they released with and later upgraded with as well as their support and sales windows. The results were quite grim, as you can see in his chart at the side. For added measure, he twisted the knife in the wound by propping up the same stats for all iPhone models in that same time period for comparison. Almost all the phones listed are still in use by people who bought them with a two-year contract and DeGusta breaks down the results:

  • 7 of the 18 Android phones never ran a current version of the OS.
  • 12 of 18 only ran a current version of the OS for a matter of weeks or less.10 of 18 were at least two major versions behind well within their two year contract period.
  • 11 of 18 stopped getting any support updates less than a year after release.
  • 13 of 18 stopped getting any support updates before they even stopped selling the device or very shortly thereafter.
  • 15 of 18 don’t run Gingerbread, which shipped in December 2010.
  • In a few weeks, when Ice Cream Sandwich comes out, every device on here will be another major version behind.
  • At least 16 of 18 will almost certainly never get Ice Cream Sandwich.

Of course, a big part of the reason behind this excessive fragmentation are the carriers themselves. We as outsiders are only privy to information that is publicly available, so who is to say that Google isn’t throwing hissy fits at the carriers for delaying releases in order to product-test their customized, bloatwared versions of software upgrades? Regardless, this was one of the inevitable pitfalls of Android’s choice to be an open source operating system. That doesn’t discredit all the advantages open source software has, but it does beg the question of whether or not Google should go against its promise to keep Android open source by clamping off certain freedoms that manufacturers, carriers, and the rooting community enjoy.

The losers of these results are quite clear: consumers and developers. Many consumers, like myself, have been incredibly frustrated with not only having to wait for a very long time (if at all) to get the latest version of Android but our frustrations also stem from the fact that parties involved in the channel can tweak the software in ways that can hamper the Android experience that was expected or promised (hello MotoBlur, hello BlockBuster app on Verizon). I consider myself one of the lucky ones because my Motorola Droid 2 Global finally received its official Gingerbread upgrade in October, just days shy of the Ice Cream Sandwich announcement, even though the device was released almost a month before Gingerbread was officially released in December 2010. For many other consumers, they are still waiting and they are losing faith in purchasing an Android device that isn’t an official Nexus branded handset.

Developers are also burdened with the duties of providing tech support for every single official customization to each version of Android OS that may interfere with their application. Instead of developers pushing out an application coded for Android 2.3, Android 3.0, etc., developers are forced to code in workarounds and other code bloat to offer fixes for issues that arise on the Motorola Droid X, the HTC Incredible, the Samsung Galaxy S, and so on. Granted, there is a difference in hardware specifications for each device that need to be accounted for but there are plenty of instances where tweaked software from a carrier or a manufacturer creates issues with something as simple as the app being able to receive and display notifications.

Furthermore, developers are limited in what advancements they can make to their applications because most of the Android community uses such a wide range of versions. Features that could be implemented on the latest Android release may be what the app needs to go from mediocre to killer app, but implementing that change means that a major part of Android users would be left out in the cold. As a result, fragmentation seriously compromises a developer’s ability to give their app a fair chance with greatest possible market penetration, further dampening their ability to turn a profit.

DeGusta also notes that this same data for Android phones outside of the United States is even worse:

Finally, it’s worth noting that people outside the US have often had it even worse. For example, the Nexus One didn’t go on sale in Europe until 5 months after the US, the Droid/Milestone FroYo update happened over 7 months later there, and the Cliq never got updated at all outside of the US.

For many, the issue of Android fragmentation is by now a dead horse and this article is doing nothing but beating it. Options to the community exist such as rooting your device and flashing your ROM to get a vanilla version of the latest Android version installed or getting a custom ROM like Cyanogen on their devices. In the small tech savvy part of the community, this is all common knowledge. However, Android’s market share has skyrocketed to 56% worldwide, the majority of that 56% being people who don’t know the difference between Market and App Store, let alone know what rooting even means. Android is no longer a platform for the geek niche, it is a mainstream option that consumers have when determining what their next smartphone will be.

Android is no longer a status symbol that identifies you as a techie or a hacker, it is being used by millions of people worldwide who are still convinced that the Gingerbread update made their phone 4G because T-Mobile boosted its HSPA+ network speeds at the same time the update went over the air. Those people outnumber the tech-savvy folks a tremendous amount. It is no longer up to the Android user to find some warranty-voiding way to get past their handset’s bootloader or customized software. Until this real issue of fragmentation is resolved, either by Google closing up Android’s software to a certain degree or all Android manufacturers and carriers agreeing to ship their products with vanilla versions of Android and push OTA version upgrades the day they go live (hah, yeah right), the consumers will continue to be punished for the entire two years they are on contract.

5 thoughts on “Almost 40% of Android phones never ran a current version of Android, 83% still don’t run Gingerbread

  1. My in-laws both have Arias, and love them. Most people don’t care about updates, unless they provide major functionality (WP7 NoDo and Mango). Most are even happy if they can see Facebook and text nicely. 
    However, it’s not good for one OS to be on so many sets of hardware, and all of them be in different stages of updated. 

    1. I have a brother who, at least for a time (haven’t checked recently) actively refused to update his Droid from 2.0 to 2.1. He said it caused some kind of problem. Don’t know what it was, or if it really was a result of the update, or some other reason, but whatever the cause, he had updates available to him that he chose not to use. Some people are just different from those of us who are update-obsessed.

      That being said, it’s still awful that people don’t have the option, even among those who deliberately chose top-of-the-line phones (at the time). CoughGalaxyScough.

    2. As I have said too many times to count, none of this would be an issue if hardware manufacturers weren’t hellbent on shitting up the user interface.

  2. I had a comment all prepped and ready to go. It got eaten by…get this…totally unsolicited Windows updates. Seriously. Who’s bright idea was it to shut down a computer with absolutely no warning whatsoever in the middle of work?

    Short version: Fully agree, Android updates are shite, I’m a pedant, but you’re still right.

    The one inaccuracy I will get hung up on, though….that 83% of Android phones without Gingerbread is referring to phones released pre-2011. Including new phones doesn’t make it much better (roughly 40% of all Android phones together run Gingerbread), but the title is grossly misleading.

    Still. We were promised a coalition of timely updates from folks like HTC, Samsung, Motorola, as well as all four of the major wireless carriers in the U.S.. We haven’t heard a single syllable from Google about that since Google I/O. This needs to happen sooner rather than later. It’s shameful how bad the situation is.

    1. I absolutely love the irony of your comment in an article about a lack of updates was eaten up by an update…

      You raise a valid point about the 83% so I stand corrected on that. I truly hope that starting with Ice Cream Sandwich things will get more streamlined and caught up.

Comments are closed.