Android: Now with less fragmentation

Credit: flickr photo by quinn.anya

About three weeks ago Apple had a little fun posting a pie chart on its public developer site that showed 93% of its mobile customers were using iOS 6, the latest version of Cupertino's OS.

The point of the joke was to use the same graphic format that Google periodically posts to illustrate current use of its many flavors of Android, thus underscoring the fragmentary nature of the search giant's open source mobile OS.

Fragmentation is an issue for consumers (so many choices!) and developers who have to decide whether it's worth their time and energy to create separate and distinct apps for each widely distributed version of Android.

Some things have changed since Apple posted its pie chart. For starters, iOS 6 is now used by 94% of Apple mobile customers (up 1%), with 5% using iOS 5. The second change is on the Android side, and it could eventually be significant, even if it may not jump out at you in a pie chart.

For the first time ever, Jelly Bean is now the most widely used version of Android, running on 37.9% of devices powered by Google's mobile OS. It's the first time Jelly Bean (Android 4.1.x, 4.2.x), which was released almost exactly one year ago, surpassed Gingerbread (2.3.3-2.3.7), which now runs on 34.1% of active Android devices. In third place is Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) at 23.3%.

Those percentages are as of July 8, so they're about as current as you can get. And they show a fairly big change from just a month ago. Here's a side-by-side comparison:

  July June  %Change
Jelly Bean  37.9% 33.0% +4.9%
Gingerbread 34.1% 36.5% -2.4%
Ice Cream Sandwich 23.3% 25.6% -2.3%

That's a lot of movement for Jelly Bean in one month, which we can attribute to sales of Samsung's Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. And it provides some clarity for consumers and developers, many of whom have avoided the confusing morass that has been Android. At least until the debut of Key Lime Pie (Android 5.0), possibly in October.

Even as older versions of Android fade into the sunset, Google has taken steps to reduce the negative impact of fragmentation. Back in late May, I wrote about Google's efforts to upgrade core applications rather than knock out new versions of the mobile OS. So now even users running earlier versions of Android can use updated versions of Google Play, Hangouts, Maps and other popular apps.

All of this should make life easier for Android users, shoppers and developers. What it won't do -- at least directly -- is make enterprises any less leery of Android's security problems. Just this week Google released a patch for a flaw that left 99% of Android phones vulnerable to hackers turning any legitimate application into a malicious Trojan. Enterprise professionals wouldn't much care whether that malicious was running on Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean.

Over time, though, signs that Android is evolving and maturing as a mobile OS platform should make IT pros more willing to support the OS, especially if companies such as Samsung continue to address security concerns with enterprise-friendly platforms such as SAFE and KNOX.

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