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.

Here's how it's changed since October.

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.