One of the major obstacles that has plagued Android as a mobile operating system despite its continued growth is the fragmentation between the different versions of the OS. Years after it came out, Android Gingerbread still controls 21.2 percent of the market according to Google's most recent statistics, whereas the newest version of the OS only controlled 1.4 percent of Android traffic in the first week of 2014.
Android fragmentation is a major issue for developers, who are forced to develop apps that can work on operating systems that have been released over the span of one to two years. This is in stark contrast to Apple's iOS, where users will upgrade to a new version of the platform within weeks after it's released.
A Slow Progression
The best way to describe Android OS upgrade adoption is slow, as it has taken months for new versions to finally attain a small fraction of the overall market. Android 4.4 (KitKat) was released on October 31, 2013 and although it is just now rolling out to popular devices like the Galaxy Note 3, it has only been able to build a 1.4 percent market share over the past two months.
In foreign markets, the fragmentation is even more apparent to the point that some of the Android devices in China and neighboring countries look less like Android and more like third-party imitations of the OS. "Android is badly fragmented; most of what is in China has no connection to Google anymore and Amazon just . . . ran with the code," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told us. "I think this will become the biggest problem for Android users/OEMs in the coming years."
Just as it has taken a long time for new versions of the OS to make it to the public, older versions have also slowly lost market share. Gingerbread, which came out in February 2011, is only second in market share to KitKat's predecessor, Jelly Bean. As of early 2014, Gingerbread is still being used on 21.2 percent of Android devices but that number is gradually declining as people begin to upgrade.
Google can take some of the blame for the slow adoption rates of Android but that's only a small part of the problem. When a new version of Android is made public by Google, both carriers and manufacturers must also make the necessary changes to support the OS before an actual user receives it and can upgrade. In some cases, an older or low-end Android device may not see an update for months or close to a year after the update is released on premium handsets.
Jelly Bean Dominance
Having been out for well over a year, Android Jelly Bean has come to dominate the market and it can now be found on nearly 60 percent of devices. This is great news for developers, as it means that they are able to reach the majority of users by only developing for one version of the OS, since KitKat has yet to catch on and older versions are losing popularity.
Even among Jelly Bean there is a notable amount of fragmentation, with a large portion of the Android market split between between versions 4.1 and 4.3 of the OS. Unlike with the more significant Android upgrades, the fragmentation between individual versions of Jelly Bean is not as problematic as fragmentation between Jelly Bean, KitKat, and their predecessors.