Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android has suffered from massive fragmentation for quite some time. But the latest data from the Android developer website shows that Google's mobile OS is closing in on cohesiveness, though it still lags far behind Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) high adoption rates.
Putting the pieces back together
The official Android developer official site shows that Gingerbread has dropped to 26% of Android device share and Jelly Bean -- its successor -- now holds a respectable 52.1%. The numbers only include Android software that taps into Google Play, so devices like Kindle Fire aren't included in the percentages.
Having a higher percentage of users on the latest Android version is a huge win for Google, considering that the company doesn't have the same control over updating older phones that Apple does.
Apple rolled out iOS 7 in mid-September and less than two months later, the OS makes up about 76% of iPhone operating systems. The software update was even compatible with the 3-year-old iPhone 4, but that hasn't come without its criticisms. Older devices running iOS 7 have experienced problems like rapid loss of battery power and slower app processing than on iOS 6. But the conversion rates for Apple have always been very high compared to Google's mobile OS fragmentation, which has left a bad taste in Google's mouth.
Google updates its Android software frequently, but original equipment manufacturers don't have to accommodate major Android updates if they don't want to. That's caused a lot of Android's fragmentation problems, but recently Google has been working on a way around this. The company has started using the Google Play Services app to handle a lot of permissions for Android devices and to update core Google apps. The shift to using Play Services to update Google apps and services in effect bypasses the need to rely on carriers and original equipment manufacturers to do all of the Android updating.
But while this gives Google the option to make changes to certain aspects of Android devices, it doesn't explain the recent increase in new Android version usage. One explanation for the change is that Google updated its algorithm that calculates Android version percentages back in April. Google now relies more on when users access the Play Store rather than when they check into a Google service. Since that time, the more recent Android versions have been gaining more ground.
That doesn't mean the latest numbers aren't good, though -- they are. Over half of the most active Android users are using Jelly Bean, which is clearly a good thing.
Google's hasn't said when its next version of Android, called KitKat, will be widely released. We do know it's coming very soon and the new Nexus 5 is already shipping with the software. What's interesting about the latest Android version is that Google made KitKat's footprint 16% smaller than Jelly Bean so that it will work on all Android devices from 2014 and on. It's Google's way of trying to beat the fragmentation Android has endured for years, and stop the criticism from competitors like Apple that many Android users are running old software.
But Google will still have to see if OEMs decide to put the new software on all of their devices or just some of them. So while the new update will likely help to reduce fragmentation in the future, it's still up to device makers to move Android forward -- and that could take some time.
Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.