Photo: Alphabet

Fewer than 1% of Android devices are running the latest version of the Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system. Originally released in October, Marshmallow includes a number of major updates that bring significant improvements to Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) mobile operating system. 

The low install base isn't surprising, but it does highlight the continued challenges facing Alphabet's platform. It also stands in stark contrast to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) competing iOS, as the overwhelming majority of iPads and iPhones sport up-to-date versions of Apple's operating system.

A two-year old version of Android dominates
Just 0.5% of Android devices are running Marshmallow, according to data published by Alphabet. Marshmallow's predecessor, Android Lollipop (released in the fall of 2014), is far more popular, powering 29.5% of Android devices. But the most common version of Android is KitKat. Originally released in 2013, it's running on 36.6% of Android devices. Older versions of Android, including Jelly Bean, Ice Cream Sandwich, and Gingerbread, power 6.5% of Android devices.

Android install base of as December 7. Source: Alphabet

The opposite is true for Apple's iOS. A full 70% of iDevices were running the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 9, as of the end of November. iOS 8, released in 2014, powered 22%, while older versions accounted for just 8%.

Admittedly, iOS 9 was released in the middle of September -- about one month before Marshmallow -- so the comparison is not completely fair. Still, by almost any measure, iOS 9's adoption rate trounces Marshmallow's. It already powered about one-fifth of iDevices 44 hours after its release, according to data from Mixpanel

iOS install base. Source: Apple

The trend continues
This phenomenon isn't new: previous versions of Android also suffered from sluggish adoption rates. But it does serve to highlight the fragmentation of Alphabet's platform. Handset manufacturers and carriers must often collaborate to roll out new versions of Android to existing devices. The disjointed process often causes multi-month delays -- only a handful of different Android devices currently support Marshmallow, and if you purchase a new Android device today, chances are that you will get a device running some version of Android Lollipop.

That's unfortunate for Android owners, as newer version of the operating system often bring new features. One of Android Marshmallow's most impressive new features is Now on Tap. Using Alphabet's Google Now technology, Now on Tap scans an Android device for whatever is currently going on, then returns contextually relevant information. Now on Tap can tell you the lead singer of a song that's currently playing on an Android device, for example, or bring up recommendations for nearby restaurants if you're texting a friend about getting dinner. It's a great feature and a unique selling point -- something Apple's iPhone notably lacks -- but most Android users can't take advantage of it today, and likely won't be able to for several months (if at all).

It also poses challenges for Android developers, as they must continue to support a wider range of Android versions. Mobile developers continue to favor Apple's iOS, releasing new apps first for Apple's platform before eventually bringing them to Android. Android's fragmentation may be a contributing factor.

Android Marshmallow's low install base isn't surprising, but it is unfortunate, and it highlights the limitations of the Android platform.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.