It was starting to feel like Android (s GOOG) 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 (s AAPL), which has 95 percent of its devices updated to the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 6.
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.