Android's big problem: Over a billion devices are more than two years out of date

Android's rapid growth and update challenges have left over one billion devices running very out of date software.

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A new analysis of Android's notorious update problems suggests patching is actually getting worse over time.

The analysis, by hardware engineer Dan Luu, uses data from Google's developer dashboard to look at the figures for outdated Android devices between 2010 and today. He found that the proportion of devices that are the most outdated is even greater today than in 2014.

Additionally, in 2014, Google had only just passed one billion active monthly users, which rose to 1.4 billion by mid-2015, and as of May 2017, that stood at two billion. And since the analysis looked at market share, that portion of devices running outdated Android -- between the 80th- to 100th-percentile mark on his graph -- is also now much larger in absolute terms.

As he notes, one obvious reason for the existence of more devices running older versions of Android is that some active devices are now a decade old. Presumably, these are the ones responsible for keeping Gingerbread, released in May 2010, and Ice Cream Sandwich from October 2011 still on Google's Android version distribution chart.

But Luu's graph also shows that uptake of new versions of Android appears to be slowing down. This phenomenon could be due to Android growth slowing, relatively fewer people upgrading to new devices, or that fewer devices are receiving updates.

His graph also highlights that there are now more than a billion devices that are two years out of date.

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Google's Project Treble promises to help speed up vendor releases of new Android versions, but only devices like the new Pixel 2 that ship with Android Oreo can take advantage of it.

Image: James Martin/CNET

That estimate roughly matches Google's most recent Android distribution figures, which were updated a few days ago for the week ending on Nov. 9. Two-year-old Android Lollipop and below now account for about half of all Android devices.

As Android Authority noted this week, adoption of the latest version of Android has been slowing with each new version for the past few releases. One reason is people reportedly holding on to their existing devices for longer. Meanwhile, vendors are still launching new devices with pre-Oreo Android.

Google's Project Treble promises to help speed up vendor releases of new Android versions, but the benefits of this technology will probably take several years, since only devices that ship with Android Oreo can take advantage of it. And device manufacturers need to meet several requirements to enable Treble.

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