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Google Android says goodbye to fragmentation as Gingerbread gets stale

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Google’s(s goog) Developer Dashboard saw its monthly update on Tuesday, showing that 58.6 percent of all Android devices hitting the Google Play store are running Android 4.0 or better. More than a third still use Android 2.3, also known as the Gingerbread version, but that figure continues to spiral downward. Why? Partially because Gingerbread launched in December 2010, and the average smartphone customer has upgraded their phone since then.

Android versions June 2013

Among the most recent versions of Android, Jelly Bean leads the way, used on 33 percent of Android devices. Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, still has 25.6 percent of the user base, however. That means only one-third of all Androids can take advantage of Google Now: even though the feature is built in to the Google Search app, it’s only supported on Jelly Bean.

Google Play Gaming

In addition to the percentage of Jelly Bean users rising, Google has smartly added many advanced services and features to all Android devices without pushing a new software download. At Google I/O last month, the company announced widespread support for Google Play Music All Access, new Google Play services for multiplayer games and cloud game saves, and a new Hangouts messaging platform. Putting these in Android 4.3 would only further add to the version fragmentation challenges Google has faced for years.

There’s still a hardware fragmentation issue, though, right? I’m not so sure. For developers, it can certainly be a challenge to support hundreds of devices. But there are new testing tools to help in that regard. And although I don’t get my hands on every new Android phone or tablet that hits the market, I can’t remember the last time I saw app issues due to varying screen sizes or resolutions.

Google’s dashboard says that 79.9 percent of Android apps hitting Google Play have “normal” sized screens, referring to standard smartphones, not tablets or “phablets.” Even though those can have different pixel density, Android can adjust dynamically for screen density (as well as size), helping to cut down on phone apps that look super-sized on tablets. That doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist, but I believe it has greatly diminished.

While Google had to rapidly iterate Android to better compete with iOS(s aapl), the recent upgrades have been incremental on the front-end while back-end services are fast improving. That’s why “version fragmentation” is more of an issue from the past.

Atrix-hd-featuredAnd while many cheap Android devices still run older versions of the software, there are still inexpensive choices with Jelly Bean helping people make the switch. AT&T(s t) sells a $49 Motorola Atrix HD with Android 4.1 while Verizon(s vz)(s vod) provides the LG Lucid 2 for free with contract, which also runs Jelly Bean. I give it another six months and suspect we won’t hear much more, if anything, about Android fragmentation again.

This post was updated at 1:25 pm to correct the Ice Cream Sandwich share.

13 Responses to “Google Android says goodbye to fragmentation as Gingerbread gets stale”

  1. hundoman

    How could this article read as anything other than Android OS is fragmented with the OS numbers shown above for various versions and then the fact that many of the 2nd/3rd world smart phones are going to be as inexpensive as possible and therefore use old Android OS’s.

    Don’t forget the Amazon versions of Android and then more importantly how do developers deal with all the screen size and sound card versions between all the devices. Just a nightmare for developers as Android always will be.

  2. inmotion

    I have Gingerbread on my Sprint Samsung phone. I’m okay with it, but If i need to do any heavy lifting in Android, I go to my Nexus 7. It’s all good.

  3. henrymiller

    RIGHT, my year old motorola running 2.3.7, tells me “Your device is upto date. No updates necessary at this time”. Next time i’ll just get iphone.

  4. Matt Newcombe


    Doesn’t Amazon’s android devices run on 2.3? I think that would also explain the large number of android devices still on gingerbread.

  5. Mike Cerm

    Another small correction: Fragmentation is alive and well! Gingerbread is still actively being sold on a lot of low-end, pre-paid phones, and that market is not going away any time soon.

    Even if you look at the 4.0-and-up segment of the market—since that more-or-less represents all of the people who remotely care about having the latest and greatest features—Google now isn’t available to the almost 50% who are running ICS. I was also stunned to learn that the latest update to Google’s Calendar app bring new features only for 4.2+, which leaves a lot of people in the cold.

    Is fragmentation really any less of an issue than it was in, say, 2010? It doesn’t seem that way.

    • Mike, I think you’re always going to find some of the latest and greatest features available to the most recent versions of software. By and large, however, these older Google devices are certainly meeting the needs of those who are buying them — else they’d upgrade. ;)

      • Mike Cerm

        That’s nice for those of use who always have a Nexus device handy, but what about the people who don’t know they’re getting a crappy out-of-date phone? All the time, I talk to people who are shocked when I tell mention that they can walk into a store today and buy a phone that’s running a 2-year-old version of Android that can’t certain newer apps. I have people say to me all the time, “but I JUST got this phone!”

        Unfortunately, those are the people who the big developers have to target. There are a lot of apps that still say, “2.2 and up” in the Play store. Think of the features that we early adopters aren’t getting, because devs have to accept that the lowest-common-denominator is still Gingerbread, and remain so for another year at least.

        • I guess I just look at the market differently, Mike. First, you dont’t need a Nexus to be running a recent version of Android. ;) Second: people don’t complain about missing features they don’t know they’re missing. If the issue was so widespread, people would better understand limitations before buying their phones. Yes, there are still some folks that will get an Android 2.3 device, but they have to be in the minority now. And that’s really the point of this post: the issue continues to recede.