The state of Android fragmentation today, and why it means Android has already won


There are two numbers that are quite telling of the state of the mobile playing field these days: the amount of Android-powered smartphones and tablets compared to iOS-powered devices, and the numbers of devices that each version of Android is being used on. These are two very dissimilar topics, but they’re very intertwined. Let’s jump right in! What is the state of Android fragmentation today, and why does it mean that Android may have already won?

First, what do I mean by Android “fragmentation”. Not long ago we talked about how, from one perspective, fragmentation doesn’t really matter, and how iOS sufferers from feature fragmentation rather than OS fragmentation.

What kind of fragmentation are we talking about?

When talking about Android, “fragmentation” typically refers to the number of major revisions of the operating that are floating around in active use today. Android is significantly different than iOS in that rather than one manufacturer who dictates to carriers what they will and won’t do with “their hardware”, Android has many manufacturers, most of which are beholden to the carriers, and must do what they say. This results in a lot more freedom and flexibility to make hardware in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. Unfortunately it also results in those handsets getting updates slowly — or not at all.

iOS’ feature fragmentation

iOS, on the other hand, usually gets OS updates across all devices at essentially the same time. Their fragmentation, however, has to do with what features are — or are not — available on the different devices. For example, one person’s iPad running iOS 6 may not be able to do everything that another person’s newer iPad running the same version of the operating system can do.

Apple has fragmented their features across their devices, rather than fragmenting the version of the OS like devices that run Android have done. Which method is better and which is worse is up for debate. Nonetheless, fragmentation exists in both camps — like it or not.

Android fragmentation today

Speaking about Android “fragmentation”, good progress is being made to reduce it. The latest numbers show that Android Jelly Bean (in its three variations) account for greater than 40-percent of all Android users, and Ice Cream Sandwich makes up another 22.5%. Put another way, almost 2/3 of all Androids are running Android 4 and above. Gingerbread makes up 1/3, and all others come in at or below 2.5%.

Market fragmentation

However, the more interesting number may be that which was reported by the Wall Street Journal: almost 80-percent of all smartphones shipped last quarter (Q2 2013) were Androids. Let that sink in for just a minute. Eight out of ten smartphones sold were Androids, and one was running iOS. The other “one” was made up of the remaining mobile operating systems. Sure, I’m rounding a little to make the comparison easier, but that statistic is telling.

I’m a realist. There may have been all kinds of market factors that played into the Q2 number, and we may not see the same 8:1 ratio in Q3. However, even if Android loses three points to Apple, that’s still a 5:4 ratio.

Looking back over the last few years, if we compare just Q2s, from 2011 to 2012, Android jumped up 20%. From 2012 to 2013, it jumped another 10%. If the pattern holds, Android will jump another 5% by Q2 2014, which would put it at 84.3%.

I don’t know about you, but these numbers don’t seem to be lying. As far as I can tell, Android has already won.

Sources: Android Developers; The Wall Street Journal

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.