Jelly Bean overtakes Gingerbread, but Android remains fragmented

The latest version of Android has finally become the most used edition of Google’s mobile OS, highlighting the fragmentation in the platform.

Jelly Bean overtakes Gingerbread, but Android remains fragmented

Jelly Bean (Android 4) now holds 37.9% of the Android market, according to Google’s data. However, most users remain on the first version – 4.1, released in July 2012 – with 32.3% market share, while the updated version, 4.2, holds only 5.6%.

Its predecessor, Ice Cream Sandwich, remains on 23.3%, while tablet-only Honeycomb has shrunk to 0.1% – not a surprise, as Ice Cream Sandwich essentially replaced it.

Gingerbread (2.3) remains in second place at 34.1%, while older versions total less than 5%. Gingerbread arrived in 2010 as Android’s growth took off. In the fourth quarter of that year, Android saw shipment growth of 615% over the year before, according to analyst firm Canalys.

Because of Android’s open platform and diverse devices, it’s not simple to keep the hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets on a single version, leading to the near-three-way divide seen with Google’s OS.

Apple, on the other hand, has managed to avoid fragmentation, thanks to its limited line up of devices, the iPhone, iPad and iPad mini.

Apple last month revealed that 94% of its installed base is running the most recent version, iOS 6, with 5% on iOS 5 and the remaining 1% on earlier releases.

Apple is expected to release iOS 7 later this year, and Google is thought to be releasing Key Lime Pie (Android 5) soon.

Fragmented opinion

Whether fragmentation is a serious issue for Google continues to be debated – not least because the OS continues to dominate smartphones despite it – but a report last year suggested developers prefer to write apps for iOS because of the challenges of writing for multiple versions of Android.

Security researchers at Trend Micro have also pointed out that older versions of software tend to be more of a security risk. “Leaving users on older versions of Android has two consequences: vulnerabilities are left unpatched, and new features won’t reach them,” the company said.

Google’s own engineers said the company is working on the issue. “This is something we think about a lot,” said Android engineering director Dave Burke, speaking at Google’s I/O conference, according to CNet. “And we’re working internally to streamline the development process and make the software more layered.”

He added that Google is looking to find ways to get manufacturers in emerging markets to use the latest versions, saying they stick to earlier editions because lower-end hardware can’t support the latest features and apps.

Google also pointed out that the software skins added by manufacturers make it harder to roll out updates – one reason the company is releasing “Nexus” hardware, running a “pure” version of Android.

Google will offer versions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4 running pure Android – and they’ll get more “timely updates” because of that.

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