Recently, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) unveiled its new smartphone operating system version, Lollipop, to further compete with Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) newest offering: iOS 8. The release, which was rolled out for general availability on Nov. 3, could not have come sooner as Google's flagship Samsung Galaxy S5 unit is struggling while Apple's iPhone 6 has been a success. Lollipop, which became available November 12, could not have come soon enough as Google could use all the help it can get competing against Apple. A recent report from Facebook gives insight into Google's fragmented operating system, indicating 66% of Android phones that access its website are using specs equivalent to 2011 or earlier.
For perspective, late 2011 was the year Apple released its iPhone 4s model. Much has changed for Apple since that release including two screen size increases, three iOS iterations, and millions upon millions of phones sold. Apple has also been able to encourage its users to update their software faster than their Android counterparts. However, with Apple's adoption of iOS 8 slowing, will this finally be the year that Android narrows the gap?
The early figures suggest it's unlikely
The early news suggests perhaps not. Google's latest figures, courtesy of Cult of Android, indicate that fewer than 0.1% of Google Play users are currently running Android 5.0 Lollipop. However, according to Google's data, the operating systems do appear to be newer than the pre-2011 specs claimed by Facebook.
The vast majority of Google Play users are running a version released after 2012 with version 4.4 -- code named KitKat and now the most popular since its late 2013 release -- commanding 30.2% of the distribution.
The marked difference in the data between Google and Facebook stems from the fact they are measuring two different things. First is the actual sample: Facebook only records Android customers that access its site while Google records its Google Play active users.
In addition, Facebook is referencing specifications rather than mere operating system versions. Essentially, Facebook seeks to reclassify Android hardware using a year system that appears to be a hybrid between operating system version and hardware specifications.
Android's fragmentation, Apple's storage issue
And that goes to the huge fragmentation issue that Android faces. Due to the massive collaboration between Google, each hardware partner, and even carriers, Google is unable to quickly push out updates to every consumer -- unlike Apple's closed ecosystem that allows it to do just that.
Generally, Google's newest operating systems are quickly available to its own Nexus line of smartphones during/before its "general release" date. Luxury handset manufacturers, like Samsung, also generally update sooner to compete with Apple. Other manufacturers and older models may be limited by the aforementioned hardware complexities.
Apple's upgrade to iOS 8 has slowed from the pace set by iOS 7 as well. The issue for many people isn't in the hardware but due a lack of storage for the massive upgrade. To initially update to iOS 8, users need roughly 5GB of space -- once completed and iOS 7 is removed, the finished update isn't as large.
However, when many iPhones are 8GB, the initial storage demand of 63% is rather onerous and many are reticent to clear their device for a software update. As of Nov. 24, roughly 60% of active devices are running iOS 8 -- look for that to continue to creep up as the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus continue their strong sales.
Even if Android doesn't catch up to iPhone, this may not be a huge issue
Google is using the same strategy Microsoft used during the PC versus Mac battle. Google decided to work with hardware manufacturers to increase supply and adoption, and it worked: Android now claims nearly 85% of the worldwide smartphone market.
And although Android fragmentation is high, Google can boast that 93% of its active Android devices have the newest version of Google Play. That's important as Google works with developers -- the company has been moving APIs and other features into Google Play so developers and consumers can rest assured apps will work smoothly.
In the end, the iOS versus Android battle comes down to two entirely different strategies. Apple seeks to avoid fragmentation and differing specs by controlling all facets of the phone. Google, on the other hand, seeks to lead on market share and accepts fragmentation. So far, both companies are executing on their strategies well.
Jamal Carnette owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). 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.