Google isn’t to blame for the specific problem of out-of-date Android installs, the device manufacturers are, but that doesn’t stop it being a blight on the OS. Numbers released by Statista show that 25% of Android devices currently in use are running a massively outdated version of the OS from late 2014.
As you can see in the image, iOS has only 7% of users on pre-2016 versions of the operating system. Google has 17% that are older than 2014, which is a truly gigantic number of very out-of-date phones and tablets.
The biggest percentage of devices (29%) are on Nougat, which was released in August 2016 and Marshmallow (28%) which was released in October 2015. That’s 57% of all Android devices that are running an OS that’s over a year old. Only 1% of Android users are on Oreo, Google’s latest release, while 65% of Apple’s users are on its latest version, iOS 11. These two versions of their respective operating systems were released within a month of each other in summer 2017.
For many users the Android experience isn’t as up-to-date as Apple’s iOS. Users could buy the latest Android phone now and they may see one major OS update and nothing else. Companies like Samsung, Sony and LG do continually push security updates – which is great – but your brand new Samsung Galaxy S9 may only get an update to Android P (due this year) and never see Android Q. Apple users can be pretty sure that they’ll get at least two years of updates, although the company never states how long it intends to support devices.
And bear in mind, iOS 11 is supported on devices like the iPad Air and the iPhone 5S, both from 2013 that’s basically a five year run, which isn’t bad. So while Apple isn’t perfect – the restrictions on third-party screens springs to mind – users do get an up-to-date phone for a decent amount of time.
Many people might argue that Apple has a far smaller number of devices to manage. That’s true, of course, but that doesn’t really excuse the slowness of many Android device manufacturers at supporting their own devices. Samsung, Sony, LG and others only have a small number of handsets they release each year, so is it really that hard to support them with Android updates?
I suspect the truth is that with two year long upgrade cycles mean the Android phone manufacturers don’t see the need to invest money in the software upgrade cycle. And what’s more, many might (wrongly) think it will slow down new device sales. I can see how they might think that, but Apple sort of shows that there’s a thirst for new devices that isn’t tied to OS updates.
Of course you might argue that there’s some good news for Android here. Older devices stay in use for a really long time. That’s true, and of course the OS being up-to-date isn’t the only issue when it comes to security. However this problem, in general, makes it harder for developers and will almost certainly have some inherent security problems.
Developers, for example, will need to keep pushing updates – particularly for security issues – to many different versions. This is likely a time-consuming and expensive process. And of course iOS does have some of that, with at least three different major releases being supported.
This problem has existed pretty much since the start of Android, will it ever get better