Visualized: Google's Android Fragmentation vs. Apple iOS

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Fragmentation is Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) biggest problem with Android. Although if you ask Chairman Eric Schmidt, he'll tell you it's called "differentiation," which is a decidedly positive spin.

Call it what you may, but Android's mobile ubiquity isn't without costs. comScore's latest figures show that Android now claims more than half of all smartphones sold domestically, topping Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iOS at 30%.

As Google has been trying to close its proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI  ) , a Moto exec recently cited hardware as a major contributor to delays in rolling out software upgrades to the masses. All those hardware configurations make it a daunting task to optimize apps among form factors, which may be why most Android tablet app developers simply don't do it.

Brace yourself for some charts
For all the fragmentation-related criticism that Android garners, at least Google is transparent with it. Big G provides a breakdown of all the various forms of Android that are floating around out there, even though the data is easily additional fodder for the platform's biggest drawback.

Have a look for yourself.

Source: Google. Data collected during a 14-day period ending on April 2, 2012.

Source: Google. Data collected during a 14-day period ending on April 2, 2012.

Here's how it's changed since October.

Source: Google. Last historical dataset collected during a 14-day period ending on April 2, 2012.

Source: Google. Last historical dataset collected during a 14-day period ending on April 2, 2012.

Not a fan of charts and visualizations? Don't sweat it, because here are some cold, hard numbers.




Android 1.5 Cupcake 0.3%
Android 1.6 Donut 0.7%
Android 2.1 Eclair 6%
Android 2.2 Froyo 23.1%
Android 2.3-2.3.7 Gingerbread 63.7%
Android 3.0-3.2 Honeycomb 3.3%
Android 4.0-4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich 2.9%

Source: Google. Data collected during a 14-day period ending on April 2, 2012. Some data condensed for simplicity.

Looking at this data, it's clear how bad the fragmentation is between software versions. The majority -- almost two-thirds -- of users are still using Gingerbread, which was first released in December 2010. That was 16 long months ago, an eternity in the world of high-flying tech.

The latest and greatest version, Ice Cream Sandwich, is being enjoyed by less than 3% of the user base. ICS is a solid mobile OS that notably refines the Android tablet experience, but that does little good if no one can use it.

What about Apple?
Apple isn't kind enough to break out the distribution of the various iOS versions in the wild, but iOS developers can track version usage for their own apps.

For example, iOS developer David Smith tracks and posts data on the version distribution he sees within his Audiobooks app. His app sees about 100,000 weekly downloads, which certainly isn't comprehensive of the iOS user base, but it's a large enough sample size to be statistically meaningful.



His daily data sets show rapid adoption of Apple's latest software versions, which are made easier with over-the-air, or OTA, updates. Within his app, 80% of downloaders are on some version of iOS 5, which is Apple's most recent major annual update.

If data from one developer seems too limited, how about if we try 50 data points from different developers? Data hobbyist Chris Sauve has compiled data from numerous developers that publicly post version adoption statistics, and his results tell a similar story.



Sauve's data shows iOS 5 quickly jumping to more than 75% adoption after it was launched in October. Here's an even more telling chart that compares iOS and Android version adoption (Y-axis) over time (X-axis), using the same starting point.



The takeaway from this chart is how quickly each iOS version jumps in adoption relative to competing Android, which has important implications for developers.

He notes that iOS 5 saw 75% adoption in the same amount of time it took for Gingerbread to garner just 4% adoption. Fifteen weeks after launch, iOS 5 was near 60%, while Ice Cream Sandwich was a measly 1%.

5 pictures are worth 755 words (the length of this article)
Ultimately, all of these fancy charts point to the increasing difficulty that Google faces with fragmentation as time goes on. Fragmentation poses a serious impediment for developers, and developers determine the fate of any platform as the primary content providers.

The search giant is clearly having enough fragmentation trouble within smartphones, so it's little surprise that Android tablets have failed to take off. If Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) can coordinate its tablet-bound Windows 8 rollouts better for its swing at the iPad, it shouldn't have much trouble taking the No. 2 spot in the tablet market.

The tablet market is about to see explosive growth, which translates well for the corresponding semiconductor market. The mobile component market is expected to reach $77 billion by 2014, and you can get a head start by checking out these three promising winners.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Microsoft, and Apple and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 12:12 AM, HawaiiHaze wrote:

    I am by no means an expert on cross-version compatibility of Android OS flavors, but I suspect that one of the reasons the Apple iOS is so successful in consolidating users to the latest version so quickly is because usually Apple's iOS also remains backward compatible to devices several generations old. For example, iOS5 works on all generations of the iPad and even on the second generation iPod Touch (which is now several years ago). This makes a huge difference for developers as they don't have to worry as much about their software becoming obsolete on older devices.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 12:33 AM, applefan1 wrote:

    How come Google users are slow adopters? That's my question. The other thing people need to realize is that Google is just taking advantage of more mfg using their FREE OS on more carriers, but at least Apple is a little more careful not flood the market with a bunch of garbage. Look at Dell, why did they dump Android Smartphones? I can easily see the serious computer makers like Dell and HP eventually dumping Android, because it confuses the customers. Dell and HP are Windows partners and to bring in something else doesn't give their customers a consistent strategic direction. Individuals usually want all the bells and whistles and they'll change brands easily, since individuals are more into what the latest trend is rather than the more strategic direction the company is making. That's why Apple is successful because they have a strategic direction. Android has so many flaws in how they do things, it is not funny. No consistent interface, too many different versions, slow adoption rate, too many obscure models/mfg. Just confusing and guess what? Microsoft isn't developing for Android and neither is Apple, so the Android user don't get all of the best apps that people want and use. I also see 4G LTE as over priced service until they remove the restrictions and increase the coverage. Otherwise, it is overhyped for data downloads for all platforms.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 12:58 AM, bbrriilliiaanntt wrote:

    Great well-written article, with great charts / visuals...KUDOS!!

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 1:23 AM, EquityBull wrote:

    Google has no control over when a carrier will allow an upgrade. I have a droid x on verizon and still on older version. No upgrade offered yet for some reason.

    I also have iPhone 4 which is IMHO far superior to the droid phone. I got the droid for development testing and use the iPhone as my phone for actual use. Droid too painful.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 1:26 AM, seattle1115 wrote:

    When I look at your charts, what I see is that something like 87% of all android devices are running one of two virtually identical kernels. I'd be interested in seeing a side-by-side comparison between this chart and a similar chart showing the usage rates for different versions of Windows - I know more people still running Windows XP than running Android 2.1.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 3:11 AM, mesmd wrote:

    Googlewas too busy and concerned with catching up and beating Apple. They flooded the market with all sorts of devices, os incompatabilities, thinking consumers would have a wider choice and more devices would sell. Apple gave the consumer it's choice, telling them what was the best and the consumer followed Apple. They soon discovered that Apple made the best devices for the consumer, notwithstanding which competitor sells more or who makes more money! Apple is so consumer based in their product ingenuity. That will always win today.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 8:21 AM, snommis69 wrote:

    This article misses the big picture. The reason Android devices are slower to update is that the individual manufacturers build the update specific to the device - and there are a lot of variants out there. Apple has all of, what, 5 devices to cover, and they are all made by Apple. The Apple fanboys here are merely babbling. The carrier decides when ANY device gets the update. The user pretty much has zero control.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 9:38 AM, seattle1115 wrote:

    @ snommis69: "The user pretty much has zero control."

    That's correct - unless, of course, the user TAKES control. If you have an Android device you might want to consider rooting it and installing a custom ROM (I use CyanogenMOD myself). In fact, that's exactly what I like about android - it's totally customizable.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2012, at 10:23 AM, snommis69 wrote:

    @seattle1115 - totally agree. I rooted mine, too. Still, the average user isn't going to do this.

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