Android and iOS share showdown
Note: this is the first in a series of two posts about how iOS and Android are performing in two key areas: software updates and installed base growth. In this first installment, I will look at how the two platforms have succeeded in bringing the latest features to their users. Much of the data in this post originated in my first post on the subject, iOS Ebb and Flow.
Few will be surprised that many of the trends in iOS and Android version adoption have remained fairly consistent over time. Long story short: new Android versions have languished in relative obscurity (Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, sits at less than 30% more than a year after its release) while Apple has managed to accelerate its already-excellent iOS upgrade rate (iOS 6 has spread about twice as fast as iOS 5 thus far).
For the purpose of giving a high-level picture of the upgrade rate, here are the OS version shares (of their respective platforms) for most of the recent iOS and Android versions, first show chronologically and then show indexed to the same starting point1:
And chronological version shares for each platform individually:
There has only been a two month period over the last three years during which the most recent version of Android had more share than the most recent version of iOS. Over that same time period, the largest iOS version was, on average, on 78.7% of devices, while the same calculation for Android shows that only 17.5% of users had the most recent software running on their devices at a given time. If we extend that to the two most recent versions for each platform, iOS covered 98.9% while Android covered only 65.7%.
The speed with which Apple has upgraded its user base has been astounding. It has taken only about 2.5 days for any new version to reach 25% of the userbase and 16 days to reach 50%. It would be nice to compare these to Android figures but versions usually don’t make it meaningfully past 50% of all users. However, one version of Android, Gingerbread, did make it to 65% of all Android users in 77 weeks — a feat which took the average iOS update only 51days2.
Despite being hailed as the best version of Android, the version that finally sanded off the rough edges and brought the OS to parity with iOS, ICS has fared worse than any other major Android version in terms of adoption. It took 10 weeks longer than Gingerbread to get just 10% of the installed base, which itself took 14 weeks longer than Froyo. If it follows the same pattern of growth after an even newer version of the OS is announced as did Gingerbread and Froyo, it won’t ever manage to reach even 35% of all Android users.
One might question, then, what the value is in Google speeding ahead with new versions if they won’t be experienced by even a majority of existing Android users. The question is interesting and the headache for Google is entirely self-inflicted. Clearly, OEMs (to whom Google implicitly gave the power to steer Android as they pleased) do not value Android for the promise of new features, a more cohesive user interface, or speedier performance. What they do value is an interesting question, but not one that the general consumer will care about. What should matter to them (it sure matters to me) is the reasonable extension that if they don’t value the tangible, user-facing improvements enough to push new versions out to existing customers, they must then not value their customers’ satisfaction. To OEMs, Android is a commodity, and so are Android users.
Units in use
The story detailed above wouldn’t be complete without looking at the number of actual devicesrunning different versions. In the area of absolute unit sales, Android has dominated for some time now (keep in mind, of course, that this has not meant that Android has also dominated in profits). Have the larger sales figures made up for Android’s fragmented OS version ecosystem?
To begin answering that question, we can apply the version shares shown above to the number of iOS and Android units in use. Of course, neither Apple nor Google choose to disclose those numbers (if they are even capable of figuring them out). As a proxy, we can use the total device sales (activations, in Google’s parlance) and an estimated two-year span after which the average device is broken or replaced. The method is not particularly scientific and I certainly don’t have the requisite knowledge to estimate a margin of error. However, applying this method gave an estimate of 95 million iOS 6 devices on September 24 and 194 million on October 25, which line up (surprisingly) well with Apple’s announcements of 100 million and 200 million devices running the OS, respectively. I’ll take it.
Putting it all together we get the following charts of units in use by version for each of iOS and Android (note that the vertical axes are set to the same scale):
Android fans may be upset to learn that there are still around 10 million net Gingerbread devices (that is, activations less upgrades/ obsolescence) put in use each month. Even worse, there are twice as many devices running Gingerbread as there are running Ice Cream Sandwich, and 21 times more than are running Jelly Bean, the latest version.
For developers targeting only the most recent OS version, the choice is clear: Android has only 20 million devices running the latest version on average, while this figure is closer to 160 million for iOS.
On the other hand, developers targeting the largest installed base of any version now have an interesting situation: Android has, for the first time, captured (which, given the lack of choice in receiving an upgrade, seems an appropriate term) more users on a single version of the operating system than Apple has. Unfortunately for Google (and Android users), that version was developed and released two years ago. In fairness, it likely won’t be long until more recent versions of Android, out of sheer magnitude of distribution, have a larger unit share than even the most recent iOS version. It will be interesting, then, to see how developer habits may change3.
If we put everything together, we can get develop a picture of the “super smart” device operating system landscape:
Android has slowly eaten into Apple’s head start and is likely never to lose its new-found lead in this area. It’s an interesting coincidence that the 50% divide was crossed just as Ice Cream Sandwich, the first version of Android that had a similar level of fit and finish to iOS, was starting to meaningfully enter the market (it was also five years after Steve Jobs stood on stage and announced a mobile phone “five years ahead” of anyone else). While there is no causation here, I believe that we will look back on that time as a watershed moment once the history of mobile computing; if nothing else, it has all the hallmarks of a moment that will be made out to be important after the fact.
1. Android version share numbers are taken directly from Google’s official developer resources page, while iOS version shares are the curves which best fit version share data from a variety of developers and analytics firms. ↩
2. Of course, it hasn’t been all roses for iOS on the software front. A trend that has been worrying me for awhile is the selective support of OS-level features between devices on the same iOS version. It seems that unlike Android, where software fragmentation has happened primarily on the operating system level, Apple has either chosen or been forced to fragment their software ecosystem at the first-party features level. It’s entirely possible that Apple has created these feature differences for differentiation purposes (or decided that this was the lesser of two evils when compared to simply leaving older devices behind altogether). Whatever the justification for the choice, though, the results are undeniably confusing, to say the least. ↩
3. Of course, there more pressing issues making Android a less attractive development environment: the culture surrounding free and paid apps and the huge variety of hardware configurations being chief amongst them. ↩
4. As usual, you can follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed if you would like updates on what’s going on around here. All of the worksheets used in putting this post together are available on the downloads page, and just below (for added convenience).