Google Android Jelly Bean 4.1 logo. Photo: AFP
The number of Android device owners using the latest version of the operating system may be climbing, but 65.6 percent of users are stuck with a version of Android that's anywhere between 18 months and three-and-a-half years out of date.
Over the past 14 days, the number of Android users running Jellybean, the latest version of the operating system, has more than doubled, jumping from 2.7 percent in November to 6.7 percent. Launched back in July (with an update in November), as recently as October, it was only running on 1.8 percent of Android devices globally.
However, Google's official figures, compiled from recording the OS of visitors to its global network of Google Play app stores for 14 days every month, also highlight that despite Jellybean's progress, too many users are still stuck on much earlier versions of the software that are no longer supported and therefore less secure.
The problem faced by Google, and therefore Android smartphone users, is two-fold. Phonemakers including Google-owned Motorola are still rolling out new handsets that run earlier versions of the software (so technically speaking the product is never actually ‘new,' even out of the box), and because, unlike Apple, Google has no control over the hardware or specifications of handsets that companies build, it is never clear if an existing handset has the necessary processing power or storage to handle an update.
Based on Google's own stats, 50.8 percent of its customer base is stuck on Gingerbread, an operating system that is already 18 months old (its final security update was in September 2011). Those users are not able to experience the latest contextual features of Android, such as Google Now, and, because some of these newer apps and features need input from as many users as possible to fine-tune their performance, all users, no matter what version of the OS they're running, will experience them at sub-standard levels -- and may continue to for some time to come.
It also means that app developers, inspired by the HD screens and processing power of the latest handsets, still have to continue making apps that can run on the most basic version of the operating system, rather than building apps that are optimized for the best Android has to offer.
Apple, in contrast, which has full control of the software and hardware supply chain, knows that when the latest version of iOS, its iPhone and iPad operating system, is released it will work on all recent devices and can be pushed directly to consumers.