Some interesting statistics were released recently about the take-up of various versions of Android.
Calculated on the basis of use of the Android Market in the two weeks up to 3 May 2010, the statistics suggest that huge numbers of people are still using Android 1.5 or 1.6. Android 2.0 is barely being used, and a minor update, version 2.0.1 is almost equally rare. Android 2.1, the most recent version of the OS is popular.
0.1% of devices run Android 1.1 37.2% of devices run Android 1.5 29.4% of devices run Android 1.6 0.3% of devices run Android 2.0 0.6% of devices run Android 2.0.1 32.4% of devices run Android 2.1
You can see these stats represented graphically here.
Now, these stats are questionable in terms of their ability to tell the whole story. Not every Android handset user downloads software regularly enough to have done so within the two week survey period, and I’d be willing to hazard that owners of newer devices running Android 2.1 might be statistically more likely to drop into the Android market having just purchased their devices than owners of older handsets are. That last point would mean that there is a skew which make the ownership of Android 2.1 devices look greater than it actually is.
On the other hand, if we assume that the stats offer an approximation of reality, they do suggest that the platform might have a problem.
As Android advances it incorporates new features which allow it to be internally more sophisticated and to support newer, more advanced software. Developers may or may not issue versions of their apps which are backwards compatible.
Recent examples include the point to point navigation element of Google Maps which launched for the UK at the end of April and supports Android 1.6 and above and Twitter’s newly announced Android client which only supports version 2.1 and higher. Then there is Microsoft Exchange support, which is native to Android 2.0 and higher and can only be accommodated by third party apps in earlier versions. The list goes on.
The ideal from a user perspective is for every Android application to support all OS versions and/or every device to get immediate updates to the latest ROM, but this simply doesn’t happen.
I use an HTC Hero on Orange, running Android 1.5. A ROM upgrade was promised then it got put back, and it currently looks like it’ll be June before my Hero gets the 2.1 ROM. Meanwhile Orange – and other operators in the UK – are happily selling the latest HTC handsets the Legend and/or the Desire, which run Android 2.1. Like many others, I’m considering a handset upgrade rather than waiting for the new ROM, and that is precisely what HTC and the operators want me to do.
In a way that’s fine. I’m actually keen to start running the HTC Desire, which is a superior handset in terms of general specs and I’m sure my ‘end user experience’ will be enhanced.
But not everyone is going to be willing or financially able to take that jump. And with so many versions of Android in the market – and another one not too far off - users could get a little confused about which services are available for which versions, and be disappointed when they find that the application or service they want is not available to them. The problem is compounded by new devices not necessarily running the latest ROM version – Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 for example, runs Android 1.6.
All this could result in bad press for Android and leave users feeling they are working with last generation kit, even though they may have obtained it fairly recently. It could do the OS which has progressed in leaps and bounds since its inception no favours.