Why the Latest Version of Apple iOS Is More Important Than Google Android

The smartphone operating system is increasingly becoming a two-horse race. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iOS and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android grow their collective share each and every quarter and now power four out of every five smartphones sold in the world today.

With Android's share towering at 56.1% while iOS lags with 22.9%, you might think that major version updates to Android are more important that for its rival from Cupertino. Both companies unveiled the next major versions of each respective operating system, iOS 6 and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, last month, but iOS 6 is much more significant than Android 4.1.

I'm not even referring to new features or functionalities being included in the newest versions. Rather, it all comes back to what's frequently cited as Android's biggest weakness: fragmentation. There are many layers of this, one of which involves slow rollouts and software update delays within the Android army as each hardware manufacturer and carrier has to sign off.

It's a constant guessing game for Android users when -- or even if -- they'll get the newest versions of the operating system whenever they get updated. At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, iOS chief Scott Forstall said 80% of iOS users are now running iOS 5, the latest publicly released version. As of the beginning of July, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was installed on just 11%, according to Google's Android developer site.

Both versions were released in October of last year, so they share an approximate starting point for adoption. This is why updates to iOS are more meaningful, because iOS users will actually get to use all the features in the first place. Only a tenth of Android users even enjoy features in Ice Cream Sandwich eight months after release, so who knows when they'd get a crack at those in Jelly Bean unless they go out and pick up a new Nexus 7 tablet.

In fact, 64% of users still use Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which was released in in 2010. It's worth noting that Google measures version distribution based on what Android devices access its Google Play content store. That means that Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Kindle Fire, which runs a heavily modified, or forked, version of Gingerbread, isn't even included in that figure because it points to Amazon's own Appstore instead of to Google Play. Since the Kindle Fire is technically an Android device, that means that the percentage of users on Ice Cream Sandwich is even slimmer than what's reported.

iOS 6 is more meaningful simply because it will reach more of its user base quickly.

The iPhone's growth has been mind-boggling. The crazy thing is, Apple still has more room to run. Learn exactly what Apple's opportunity is, as well as the impediments to getting there, in our brand-new premium Apple research service.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Amazon.com and 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 Amazon.com, Apple, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Amazon.com, and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (7)

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  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2012, at 1:40 PM, lucasmonger wrote:

    Since Apple makes money on every device that is part of their 22.9% market share, but Google doesn't make anything, I'm not sure market share numbers are as important as pure profit. It's kind of nice being #2 as it is harder for the DOJ to claim that you are a monopoly. Plus, Apple is always portrayed as the underdog trying to get a piece of the giant's pie (Apple vs. Microsoft and IBM in the 80-90s).

  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2012, at 3:26 PM, Betel wrote:

    This post just trying to prove "Whetever Apple do..its good" ??? Are you kidding...?

    Even Adriod 2.2 or 2.3 which is ruuning on most of the andriod system have better function than IOS6. And forget aboune ICS and jelly Bean. They have much more features... Now as Apple fan you can say that "You do not need" But it like when ever one write a program "Hello World".. its just "Hello world", but when Apple write "Hello World" its innvovation..

    Get a break and experiance things outside "I"

  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2012, at 6:29 PM, xetn wrote:

    lucasmonger: Google makes money off of its Nexus phone and tablets.

  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2012, at 9:29 PM, bunkie21 wrote:

    The numbers speak for themselves. I've owned two iPhones, an original and a 3G. Last year I switched to a Samsung Infuse. It's still running Gingerbread despite my best efforts to upgrade it. The Samsung-supplied upgrade utility simply doesn't work for me.

    In contrast, my iPhone and iPad upgrades have all been flawless and easy. In all, the Samsung has been a real disappointment where it really counts, in usability. It's buggy, it has certain really annoying characteristics such as when calling, the first ring is almost inaudible and the subsequent rings are deafening.

    I'm a former software developer, so I have a lot of tech experience. I was seduced by the "open" nature of Android and, to be sure, it does have some nice features. However, a phone has to be a phone and my iPhones were much better at that.

    As soon as my contract allows, I'm going back to an iPhone.

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