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Summary:

Handset makers are starting to make good progress getting Android 4.4 to phones in the U.S. and Canada, based on data from Chitika. If you want your phone upgraded the fastest, a Nexus or Motorola handset is the way to go.

Android KitKat

Earlier this week at Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference, Tim Cook pointed out that the Android community can’t get its act together when it comes to software versions. He’s right that there are several editions of Android on phones around the world, although I’d argue it doesn’t matter that much since Google is upgrading its services across all of those versions. Besides, the KitKat upgrade train is coming on strong, up more than 25 percentage points in North America in the past three months.

The data comes from Chitika’s ad network where it last reported Android 4.4 adoption in April. At that time, only 10 percent of the phones browsing sites on its network in the U.S. and Canada ran KitKit. Fast forward to the current day and that figure is 37 percent, making KitKat usage second in North America only to Jelly Bean, the prior version of Android.

Android adoption North America June 2014
Unsurprisingly, Samsung accounts for the most KitKat users in the study overall. It sells the most handsets (by far), so even though it’s typically not the first hardware partner offering software upgrades to its phones, it makes up the difference in sheer breadth of market.

Google’s own phones rule the roost when it comes to fast upgrades, which is one of the key benefits to owning a Nexus phone. But a very near second is owning a Motorola handset because it has quickly offered Android upgrades since launching its Moto X last August. That phone, along with the Moto G and E models, is now getting Android 4.4.3, just days after Google made the code available to its partners.

android upgrades by manufacturer June 2014

Google first introduced Android 4.4 KitKat in October and although it can run on a wider range of phones — the software is optimized to run better on lesser hardware — it’s still up to Google’s hardware partners to make it available. For companies that have added their own software layer on top of Android, it takes time and effort to do so. Motorola is quicker than most partly because it has no such user interface skin, instead opting for a more pure Android experience with some added software features.

As always, Chitika’s data provides a proxy view of the overall Android market; if an Android phone never hits a website using Chitika ads, it can’t be counted in the study. So consider it a subset of the whole market to give an idea of Android’s current state in North America.

  1. There is a deeper problem with the Android ecosystem. After watching WWDC 2014 I noticed several trends that has altered my perception of Android unless Google addresses them at Google I/O 2014.

    First let me say I am an Android user. I’ve owned the very first Android phone, the G1. Then I purchased the Samsung Galaxy and Galaxy S3. After the S3 I purchased a Nexus 5, therefore, I’m fully in the Google/Android camp. Tim Cook mentioned that users are not on the latest version of Android and in years past I would have said that is not a big deal. Sure, Google updates their services regularly however, Edward Snowden happened. Tim Cook’s point was that if there is a security issue with the Android OS (OpenSSL), which affects older versions of Android (which OpenSSL does), then users will be left exposed. No matter how fast Google updates their services, that’s not going to solve the main problem of the core OS not being updated. Consumers suffer as a result.

    Second, let me say I’m a developer. I’ve shipped Android apps to the Google Play Store. I have also shipped HTML5 products. Android tooling is so inferior to XCode it’s unbelievable. Eclipse is a subpar development environment for creating Android apps. Google acknowledges this fact and created Android Studio and released it at the previous Google I/O. Yet one year later Android Studio is at version 0.5.9 and is still considered a “Preview” product. I don’t know how much better it will be for I/O but as an Android developer looking at the current version of iOS tooling I’m envious.

    If I want to develop apps for Chrome OS I have to mentally switch context and build an app with HTML5, CSS and Javascript. I can’t utilize the same codebase for both Chrome OS and Android. Yes I know that the Chrome team has a GitHub project that utilizes Cordova to bring Chrome Apps to Android and iOS. I’ve downloaded the tools and deployed the apps to both platforms. The APIs aren’t complete. The tooling sucks and its miles behind the experience Apple gives you when developing for iOS and the Mac.

    Sure, Apple will lock you into their world but it’s a beautiful world. With the introduction of the Swift programming language Apple has instantly built equity within the developer community. If they open source Swift, (I think they will) I believe the language will be a HUGE hit outside of the Apple ecosystem.

    Playground is going to do more for novice and professional programmers, especially programmers new to Apple’s ecosystem than anything else I can remember. There is nothing that even comes close to helping people learn to program as easily. Even you Kevin in your G+ post, posted a pic of you learning Swift in Playground. If Playground and Swift is used to teach kids to program in High School, Apple is going to have another huge advantage with the next generation of software developers.

    If I want to develop for the Mac, iPad, iPhone, and iPod I only have to learn one programming language (Swift). All the tools are the same, (XCode, Instruments, Interface Builder, Playground etc.) If I have to develop for Android and Chrome OS it’s very challenging because the languages are different and the tooling is different. With Chrome, there are so many web tools that a novice would find it difficult to begin building a stable, quality Chrome App. With Swift, Playground and XCode your apps are much more likely to be faulty because of bugs. I know you can write bad code in any language but at least with Swift your tools will help you find the bad code. Try writing thousands of lines of Javascript and chasing down bugs. I’ve done it and it’s not fun.

    I await to see how Google responds. I didn’t even mention all the other pieces of how iOS 8 and the new Mac OS work so seamlessly together. I really want Android to succeed but Apple is reducing the number of reasons I chose Android in the first place.

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  2. Chem, that’s a great overview of Android’s state of the state; thanks. And while I can’t speak to the development side because I’m not a programmer (yes, you caught me playing with Swift!), I really can’t disagree with anything you’ve said here.

    “Sure, Apple will lock you into their world but it’s a beautiful world. ” is probably the best summary of the situation now and before now. As you said, it’s up to Google to respond so that the Android and Chrome world are see as beautiful for some people.

    I still think that Google offers things that Apple simply can’t or won’t, at least not yet. That ranges from contextual services like Google Now to the licensing model and software that can run on a wide gamut of devices at every price point. There are more, but I won’t list them here. Even so, as a more Google-centric user myself, I’ve come away very impressed with what Apple presented. I’ve been using Yosemite and iOS 8 (former is pretty stable but the latter is still quite buggy) and my interest between Google and Apple has shifted a little bit closer to Apple than it was before.

    Regardless of one’s personal choice though, it speaks volumes to how good it is to have multiple platform choices that satisfy at this point.

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