Google’s 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.
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.
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, 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.
And 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 sells a $49 Motorola Atrix HD with Android 4.1 while Verizon 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.