If there is one feature for which Android has always been mocked as compared to iOS, it is Android’s software upgrade process. Google brings out a new version of Android once a year just like Apple does with iOS, but while Apple manages to deliver the new update almost immediately to devices as old as three years, most Android smartphones need to wait for long periods of time for exorbitant amounts of time for the latest version of Android. In many cases, devices do not see an update at all.
But how bad really – REALLY – is the Android upgrade scenario? It would be only fair to analyze the whole Android software upgrade scenario more holistically to get an answer. Although Android’s first publicly available version was released on September 23, 2008, for the sake of this article we will consider Android versions that were released after Android Honeycomb, i.e., Android 4.0.
Most Android versions are released towards the end of the year, i.e., around October or November in most cases. Once a new Android version is released, it is only towards the middle of the next year that Android flagships sporting the latest Android version are released, and it is only by the end of the next year, i.e., a year after the newest Android version has been released that the software manages to trickle down to the older flagship devices and other mid-range devices. Yes, there are instances where a software upgrade is provided after as much as a year and a half from the date of release, but for the sake of this article, we are going to measure adoption within the first year of an Android version’s release.
Google provides data on adoption of latest Android software only as a percentage of the total installed base and this installed base often consists of devices that are several years old. However, we can assume that if one measures the adoption of an Android version a year after its release then the majority of devices that get the update would have been released in the last two years. So if I am to measure the adoption of Android Ice Cream Sandwich which was released in October 2011, then the vast majority of devices contributing to the adoption of Ice Cream Sandwich would have been launched in 2011 and 2012. This is yet another limitation we would have to keep in our article so as to arrive at meaningful conclusions, considering the wide variety of data at play and the lack of certain data points.
Also, Google’s data on adoption of various Android versions is dependent on data collected from Play Store which means one has to subtract devices shipped to China from global shipments in order to arrive at an accurate data set.
So summarizing our overall methodology –
- In order to arrive at an accurate data set, we subtract Chinese shipments of Android smartphones from overall global shipments of Android smartphones. This dataset considers smartphones shipped during the year of an Android version’s release and the year that follows. For example, if an Android version was released in October 2013, then we take shipments of 2013 and 2014 into consideration.
- For the level of adoption, we consider the adoption of a particular Android version towards the end of the year after it was made available. For example, if an Android version was launched in October 2013, then we look at its adoption rate as on November or December of 2014.
NOTE – This article makes use of data from a wide variety of sources, and as such, some of the data might not be fully accurate, but in the author’s opinion, it suffices for the overall theme of the article.
Ice Cream Sandwich
Ice Cream Sandwich was released on 18 October 2011.
Total Android smartphone shipments worldwide for 2011 and 2012 – 740.6 million
Share of Chinese devices in 2011 and 2012 – 147.2 million
*Note – The average share of Android in China between 2011 and 2012 was 90%
Our required data set – 608.12 million
Adoption of Ice Cream Sandwich as of November 2012 – 25.8%
Number of Ice Cream Sandwich devices towards the end of 2012 = 156.89 million
Android Jelly Bean was released on 9 July 2012
Total number of Android smartphone shipments between 2012 and 2013 – 1.29 billion
Total number of smartphone shipments between 2012 and 2013 in China – 404.1 million
*Note – The share of Android OS in China between 2012 and 2013 was 80%
Our required data set – 966.72 million
Adoption of Jelly Bean as of December 2013 = 54.5%
Total number of Jelly Bean devices towards the end of 2013 = 526.8 million
Android KitKat was released on 31 October 2013
Total number of Android smartphone shipments between 2013 and 2014 – 1.79 billion
Number of smartphone shipments between 2013 and 2014 in China – 461.6 million
*Note – Average market share of Android in China during 2013 and 2014 was 65%
Required dataset – 1.49 billion
Adoption of KitKat as of December 2014 – 39.1%
Total number of devices running KitKat at the end of 2014 – 582 million
Android Lollipop was released on November 12, 2014
Total number of Android devices shipped worldwide in 2014 and 2015 – 2.15 billion
Total number of devices shipped in China between 2014 and 2015 – 863 million
Note: Percentage of Android OS-based devices in China between 2014 and 2015 – 72%
Required dataset – 1.52 billion
Adoption of Lollipop towards the end of 2015 – 24.2%
Total number of devices running Lollipop towards the end of 2015 – 367.84 million
Google released Android Marshmallow on October 5 2015
Total Number of Android smartphones shipped in 2015 and 2016 – 2.38 billion
Total number of Chinese smartphone shipments between 2015 and 2016 – 949 million
Percentage of Android devices amongst Chinese shipments in 2015 and 2016 – 73.8%
Required dataset – 1.67 billion
Adoption of Marshmallow towards the end of 2016 – 26.3%
Number of devices running Marshmallow at the end of 2016 – 441.74 million
As one can see from the graph above, contrary to the popular assumption that Android upgrades are constantly falling, they actually seem to be pretty erratic. While as a percentage, newer versions of Android keep having lower percentages than the previous upgrades, from an absolute upgrades point of view, the story is quite different. This makes sense considering that the dynamics of the Android smartphone market have changed a lot over the years. While earlier the premium range used to drive growth, the growth in the premium range and developed markets has all but slowed to a crawl. Almost all the growth seems to be coming from the low end, and mid-range handsets sold in emerging countries and these handsets often come with outdated versions of Android as a result of which as a percentage, they give a boost to the older versions of Android at the expense of newer Android versions.