Android platform distribution update

Ice Cream Sandwich makes gains, but Gingerbread still dominates

Elliot Bentley

A look at Google’s latest numbers reveal that Android fragmentation is still plaguing the ecosystem.

The first Android distribution numbers from 2013 are in, and
they’re still not looking great. The ecosystem is still dominated
by a two-year-old operating system, causing headaches for Java and
web developers targeting the fragmented platform.

In August, we reported that the majority of Android users – 60.6%
in total – were
still running Android 2.3.3
(one of the ‘Gingerbread’ series),
which dates back to December 2010. The good news is that the number
of devices running Android 4.x (‘Ice Cream Sandwich’, first
introduced in October 2011, and the newer ‘Jelly Bean’), has
steadily climbed to reach over 40%. Unfortunately, while its share
has dropped significantly, Gingerbread still rules the roost with
47.6% of the market.

Google makes available data collected from the Google Play store
regarding the proportion
of devices running each Android distribution
. While useful to
developers, it has also proved embarrassing to the company as the
extent of Android ecosystem fragmentation – caused by a lack of
centralised updates – has become apparent.

iOS 6, meanwhile, was installed on an
estimated 60% of all iPhones
within just ten days, despite
significant controversy over the replacement of Google Maps with an
inferior proprietary equivalent.

The prevalence of these older Android versions is a nightmare
for developers, and is part of the reason why iOS is often
prioritised despite an overall smaller market share. For example,
apps from the BBC tend to launch on iOS first, with more features,
because older and less capable devices are still so

Daniel Danker, the BBC’s head of iPlayer, explained that
even something as simple as streaming video can prove tricky:
“Before Ice Cream Sandwich (an early variant of the Android
operating system) most Android devices lacked the ability to play
high quality video. If you used the same technology as we’ve always
used for iPhone, you’d get stuttering or poor image quality. So
we’re having to develop a variety of approaches for Android.”

He added: “The number one device contacting us is still the Samsung
Galaxy S2, which can’t handle advanced video.”

It isn’t just bad news for Android app developers, but web devs
too: the stock Android browser is notoriously poor, failing to
many features of HTML5
now taken for granted. It is
particularly ironic since Google themselves pioneered ‘silent
updates’ in Chrome, ensuring that users were kept up-to-date and
preventing stagnation. The stock browser in 2.2 ‘Froyo’, which is
still clinging on to 10% of market share, fails to even support the
<audio> tag.

With new devices constantly being bought (and old ones being thrown
away), progress is inevitable. But unless something changes,
developers will have to continue to deal with the majority of users
running outdated software, and accept it as a downside of Android’s
semi-open nature.

Photo texture by Karl-Ludwig
G. Poggemann

comments powered by Disqus