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Summary:

According to a new report from Open Signal, a third of Android devices surveyed are running a 2-year-old version of the operating system. That’s bad news for Google, but even worse for consumers.

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It was starting to feel like Android fragmentation was a thing of the past, especially when smartphone juggernaut Samsung began shipping its flagship Galaxy S 4 with the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. But fragmentation is alive and well, and in fact more of a problem than ever, according to a new report from OpenSignal.

Compared with a similar report from last year, fragmentation has tripled. Out of 682,000 devices surveyed, 34.1 percent were running Android 2.3.3-2.3.7 (Gingerbread), a version of the operating system that is well over two years old. And the problem of fragmentation really comes to light when you compare these numbers with Apple, which has 95 percent of its devices updated to the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 6.

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The news isn’t all bad: 37.9 percent of the devices surveyed are running a version of Jelly Bean, which is Google’s latest version of Android. That’s the highest percentage in the study. On the other hand, most of those devices (32.3 percent) are running a version of Android 4.1, rather than the newer Android 4.2.

The irony is that one of Android’s greatest strengths—diversity—is largely what has led to such widespread fragmentation. There are so many different devices out there, with different screen sizes and software overlays from manufacturers, that it isn’t possible for Google to just roll out one big OS update that will automatically work across the board.

This is bad for Google, but worse for the consumer. After all, each new version of Android contains new fixes, tweaks and features that make for a far better overall experience. For instance, anyone that isn’t running at least Android 4.1 doesn’t have access to Google Now, a powerful search tool that’s one of Android’s best new features.

As more and more devices demand the latest and greatest software for their mobile devices, it’ll be interesting to see how Google and manufacturers respond to this problem. For now, though, if you’re looking to avoid fragmentation at all costs, your best bet is to buy a Nexus device from Google.

  1. I’m still not seeing the fragmentation. If you’ve never done development, you might be inclined to believe there is massive fragmentation, but there really isn’t that much in practice.

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  2. I love how there are all these articles breaking down android version numbers and yet they never seem to mention how google play services remedies a lot of these so called fragmentation issues…

    http://developer.android.com/google/play-services/index.html

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    1. Actually, OpenSignal wrote a whole article explaining Google Play Services as well: http://opensignal.com/blog/2012/12/18/explaining-google-play-services/

      Whilst it helps it’s not a full silver bullet.

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  3. So iPhones can update, but they can’t use all the features (Siri, etc). So isn’t that fragmentation? Android could push out a version number to all those phones if they wanted.

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    1. Exactly, Apple covers up it’s fragmentation with this scheme. Besides, the real problem with iOS development is the fickle app store. Building a great app and then hoping that it didn’t offend anyone at Apple in order to get it released is nuts.

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  4. I’d rather have 2.2 or 2.3 version installed on weaker devices (256 or 512 mb ram and hence) than having full blown jelly bean.
    It’s how you make your phone usable matters, not having latest OS.

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  5. Google doesn’t care about fragmentation, and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Android is going to be abandoned soon. I think Chrome OS is more Google’s thing than Android, which costs them a lot of money in patent litigation (Microsoft makes more off Android than Google does), and doesn’t bring them any revenue in return.

    Android was created (in the form of a Blackberry rip off) to prevent Microsoft from swallowing the smartphone industry the way it did PC’s, and then pivoted (in the form of an iPhone OS rip off) to stop Apple from iPoding the the industry. It’s been a tremendous success in that regard, because it accomplished those goals and it allowed them to partner with OEM’S to provide customers with Google’s ad-laced services. Now that Android has accomplished these goals, Rubin (nicknamed Android when he worked at Apple) was ousted. He felt Android was something to preserve, Larry Page sees Android as a means to an end, and its clear the end is in sight.

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  6. Who is Alex Colon?

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  7. And how many PCs are running 10 year old Windows XP?

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  8. Android diversity is a strength, not a problem. Enables folks to get phones that suit their budgets and needs.

    To overpriced Apple, diversity a dirty word- they only want rich people to have access to technology.

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