back to article Android users running old OS versions? Not anymore, say latest stats

One of the most consistent gripes about Android is that its ecosystem is fragmented, forcing developers to support too many different versions of the OS at the same time. But that may be changing, according to the latest stats from Google. In the Chocolate Factory's most recent poll of Android devices, published on Wednesday, …


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  1. joeW

    Whatever the OS, I think smartphones have matured to a point where running a one year old version isn't the same drawback as it was in 2009 or 2010. I mean, how many Galaxy S4 users will be drooling and lusting after the upcoming S5? Most I imagine will think "It's a bit nicer, but there's no compelling reason to upgrade - I'm happy to wait until the S6 or whatever".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lots of people must have bought new phones then.

    2. Gannettt

      Totally agree. Own an S3 here and see no reason to upgrade, though might look for something newer this summer.

      My missus is one of the Gingerbread hold-outs, using an ancient HTC Inspire 4G. She tried my phone with a 4.3 custom ROM and said it was too complicated. Doesn't stop her moaning that half the apps she wants don't seem to be compatible with her aging device, though!

      1. Piro

        To be fair..

        Desire HD is a great device.

        I'm not using mine now (now on a RAZR MAXX HD), but it still works perfectly. Has a great in-hand heft, and is one of the oldest devices that still genuinely performs well. That investment in 768MiB RAM really shows in that handset.

        Out of curiosity, I updated it to the latest Android Revolution HD a few months ago, and I was amazed at how smooth the animations in the Sense launcher are. Really has a sense of showmanship. I don't mind Sense.

  2. gerryg

    android upgrade debate

    "Whether those customers received "upgrades" without buying new phones, however, is debatable."

    You pays yer money you takes yer choice - Some phone manufacturers will offer OTA updates but some consumers enjoy getting new handsets via a mobile contract and despite everything the upgrade interval is only slowly getting longer.

    Others will be working out how to sideload cynogenmod which just gets easier and others still will just buy a new cheap but good handset which is not necessarily an option with the alternatives.

    It might not be green but it's what consumers do (with encouragement) despite exhortations not to.

    1. Steve Knox Silver badge

      Re: android upgrade debate

      Some phone manufacturers will offer OTA updates

      Yes, but you can count the number who offer upgrades from 2.x to 4.x on one hand or less.

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: android upgrade debate

      It seems to be less and less relevant now. Google seems to stick most of the required stuff in some Google supplied "apps" that automagically update in the background, regardless of what actual firmware you have. The actual firmware of the phone now doesn't seem to do very much that affects apps, so it doesn't seem to be so critical that it is always updated.

      1. Boothy

        Re: android upgrade debate

        @ BristolBachelor

        It seems to be a purposeful direction by Google, presumably to get around the issue of carriers and phone manufacturers not releasing (or being very slow to release) new OS versions.

        This seems like a good idea to me. Get the core OS to do basic low level functionality only, providing APIs into the hardware etc, then have everything else essentially as an App on top of it. If security issue are found, and it's in a function managed by an app, then simply update the app. Google can already force updates to some built in apps, such as the Play Store itself.

        I can imagine things like the stock Android home screen, Contacts and anything else current included as a function of the OS, turning up as an official Google Apps in the Store at some point (or perhaps a hidden one, like the Store itself).

        The more functionality removed from the core OS, the less likelihood that security issues would be in the core itself, so reduced the need to update the OS itself, just update the app that's running that function.

        Obviously if the issue is in the core OS, you'd still need an update to fix it. But this likelihood should reduce as more of the functionality is moved away from the core OS, and put into an application.

        I can imagine in the future, perhaps with Android 5.0, the core OS being a very lightweight framework, with a driver layer to the hardware, and an API layer for everything running on top of it. With all other functions, the Home screen, camera, keyboard, contacts, clock, calendar etc etc all being applications, that can all be updated as needed (some may be hidden apps, but just update in the background like the Play Store does).

        At this point, I can imagine updates to the core Android OS to be few and far between, as there would simply be no need to update the OS itself except when adding new low level APIs, for example new types of hardware, or for bug or security fixes.

        Looks like a good thing to me,

      2. BillG Silver badge

        Re: android upgrade debate

        Past polls have consistently shown a large number of devices running Android 2.3 "Gingerbread," a comparatively ancient version that debuted in late 2010. But these days such devices only make up 20 per cent of the total.

        I don't understand the use of the word "only" here. 20% is a large percentage of a customer base, GB is #2 to JB's #1 and dwarfs ICS and KK combined.

        Part of the problem is actually the manufacturers. For example, LG has refused to allow carriers to upgrade many of its phones off GB, or even supply drivers.

      3. James R Grinter

        Re: android upgrade debate

        For the developer it's about wanting to use the latest APIs, methods, and even the range of UI things you can style have massively improved with the newer Android releases. Alternatively you have to stick with the lowest common denominator, and 20% of a potential user base is not to be sniffed at.

        Then there's testing. Testing requires a lot of effort- you cannot avoid checking on the multiple screen sizes and dpi, but then multiple API levels (more than the major Android release milestones), the multiple handset vendor customisations (I've had bugs that surface solely on Sony, and have one right now that only shows up on a Galaxy 3 Note) mean you really do have to test on more than the emulator.

        That is, if you want to have useful, working apps on your Smartphone. Perhaps the majority of the Android user base is just happy with themes and spiffy looking program launchers?

  3. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    JB? I Dream of JB!

    About three months ago my Nexus S gave up the ghost. Called my cel provider (Telus in Canada) to see about upgrading to a new phone. I got the Nexus on a three year contract and actually felt it was a reasonable deal. I'm perennially short on cash, so I can live with the contract. Or could.

    After WAY too much time and energy I finally pinned them down: in order to upgrade to a current (ish) smartphone I would need to pay $150 and accept a MINIMUM increase in my monthly spend of $20. For two years.

    Which would mean that the new phone would cost me about $650.

    Except that the "cheapest" plan I could get on a new contract was not the same as what I have now. I would need to pay extra to keep my 2 gig monthly data cap, and my full voicemail service (not the "free" one that limits you to three messages in your inbox.)

    They finally admitted that in order to upgrade the phone to a current one would cost me $150 PLUS I would now be paying $98 a month, instead of the $50 a month I pay now.

    Meaning, to get a new phone and keep the service that I have would cost me an added $1300!!!!!

    Which is how I came to by a cheap as dirt $100 pay as you go Samsung Discovery. Never heard of it? Neither had I.

    Which arrived three months ago with Ice Cream Sandwich, and with no hope whatsoever of an upgrade, and because it's pretty much unknown, underpowered, and mediocre, little likelihood of a Cyanogenmod implementation.

    The camera sucks rocks too.

    I have to say that Android is pretty much a hopeless mess, with every phone, from every manufacturer, and many carriers, being it's own little customized item, which leaves 85% of the Android population powerless to do anything but wait for some large corporation to bother to upgrade their systems.

    Why this matters: smartphones now handle just about anything that desktop computers did five years ago - e-mail, communications, banking, shopping, bill payments, remote access by VPN.

    One hell of a lot of sensitive and private data is flying around, and the end users not only don't have any idea how secure their systems are, they have literally no way of improving the security of their smartphones.

    None of us would accept it if Apple, or Microsoft, or (insert Linux distro here) said "Here's your OS, and don't ever expect us to fix any security problems, or make any improvements, or make it possible to replace it with a new version."

    So why do we accept that from the companies that provide the OS for our phones?

    Surely one massive lawsuit is pending at some point.

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      So why didn't you buy an iPhone?

      Or more seriously, why not keep your old contract and buy an unlocked Moto G? I understand it's reasonably good and costs less than $200... Far from this "added $1300" you are talking about.

      1. James Cooke

        Re: So why didn't you buy an iPhone?

        This is also confusing me. Do they not sell or somehow block unlocked handsets in Canada? Could you not buy the mentioned Moto G or a Nexus 5 or something? According to a Japanese friend they do that with iPhones in Japan - it's like the bad old days for would be fruity fondle phone buyers in the UK where you can only buy it from the telcos for very inflated prices and there are no native unlocked options.

        1. Gerhard Mack

          Re: So why didn't you buy an iPhone?

          There is nothing stopping you from bringing your own handset to Telus. I recently moved back into the country and took my Galaxy S Relay with me to the Telus store. Not only did they not have a problem with that, they gave me a 10% "bring your own phone" discount on my service.

        2. Barry Rueger Silver badge

          Re: So why didn't you buy an iPhone?

          Do they not sell or somehow block unlocked handsets in Canada?

          Actually it's pretty much impossible to find a handset for sale except from the the cel providers.

          You can order up a Google phone on-line of course, but aside from that you will have to look very long and very hard in Canada to find a company other than the big three selling handsets.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: So why didn't you buy an iPhone?

            "pretty much impossible to find a handset for sale"

            "you will have to look very long and very hard in Canada to find a company other than the big three selling handsets."

            Really, took me about 3 seconds:


    2. DaLo

      Re: JB? I Dream of JB!

      I can't understand your rant at all. You bought a phone you know hardly anyone had heard of, knowing there would be no hope of an upgrade and knowing that a major ROM creator would not support it and then complain that it didn't include an indefinite support and free upgrade contract from the manufacturer.

      Whereas you could have just bought a new Moto G or any number of second-hand phones which are supported by cyanogen or others for little or no difference in price.

      Your carrier wants to charge you through the roof and you choose to buy a phone that is obsolete the day you bought it but this is somehow the fault of the OS which is continuously updated and has security fixes and is made available free of charge and usually open-source to anyone?

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: JB? I Dream of JB! @Barry

      I can sympathise, but some of the problem is the carrier.

      I had a Sony Xperia Neo on a contract from Orange in the UK. It was running 2.3.4.

      Sony published a ICS upgrade for the phone, but Orange did not bother to repackage it. One thing that the carriers don't tell you is not only is your phone locked to their network unless you unlock it, but often the phone you have is actually a service provider specific model (check the last few digits of the long model name, and look it up), and cannot take the generic updates for the model.

      This effectively means that the same phone may have later updates that you can't use.

      I know I could have put Cyanogenmod on the phone, but why should I risk the functioning of the phone merely because the service provider chooses not to publish a usable and available update.

      When I got my newer phone, I passed the Neo to my daughter who stuck her Orange pre-pay SIM in and is very happy, even though it is running Gingerbread. Her (and my previous) previous phone (a Samsung Galaxy Apollo running 2.2) was passed down to my youngest child, who uses it with an 8GB micro-SD card as a music player and FM radio.

      I think that phone service providers should be forced by law to offer to revert a phone to phone vendor generic software once they decided to stop passing on updates from the phone manufacturer.

    4. Darryl

      Re: JB? I Dream of JB!

      The other option is to dump Telus. They're masters of upping your charges every time you sneeze.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: JB? I Dream of JB!

      To Mr ive got the Samsung Discovery AKA the S730M and im stuck on ICS

      Root/CWM guide:

      And 4.4 KitKat Guide:

      1. Barry Rueger Silver badge

        Re: JB? I Dream of JB!

        Will check it out!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    forcing developers to support too many different versions

    Guessing you don't write android code then.

    This is totally a non issue. The android SDK is very stable with rarely and breaking changes between versions. Gingerbread to ICS was the only blip...

  5. Big_Boomer

    Upgrade! Upgrade NOW! Give us all your MONEY!

    The cell companies want all your money. Therefore they lock the phone down as much as they can and rarely provide OS upgrades. Apple is only an exception because they retain control of the handset rather than allowing the cell company to customise it. I had an HTC Desire for nearly 3 years, the last year of which I switched to a rolling 1 month contract from Tesco.. During that time the OS was never upgraded. The battery started to finally fail last month and whilst I could have bought a new battery I had a hankering for a slightly more modern phone. I was paying £10 a month to Tesco for 250mins, 5000txts and 500Mb Data. I am now paying £12.50 per month for exactly the same plan but I have a new Moto-G running KitKat on a 24 month contract. No it's not the latest phone but nor am I paying £35 a month for the latest thingy extension. I don't expect it to be upgraded to any later version of Android in the next 2 years due to the Motorola buy out by Lenovo.

    I would also like to sing Tesco's praises. Their support team are superb (I have yet to speak to a script monkey) . They know what they are doing and they follow through on their promises. Compared to the shower I used to have to deal with at Voda they are a breath of fresh air. Well done Tesco!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Android fragmented ecosystem?

    "One of the most consistent gripes about Android is that its ecosystem is fragmented"

    One of the most consistent doses of FUD about Android is that its ecosystem is fragmented, it's either not selling or if it is selling, it's fragmented ...

    1. wikkity

      Re: Android fragmented ecosystem?

      Could down voters on the above explain why? Do you have experience writing/supporting software for android devices. If so and you have problems with this then maybe you should go back and read the dev docs again. Or maybe people just believe the FUD.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Android fragmented ecosystem?

      The 1 downvote is from the one guy that still believes anything Apple has to say is even remote true.

  7. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Minor variations

    I have 2 Android devices running different 4.n OS from different makers.

    We have a few others in the family.

    All just about the same, but all with enough small variations in menus etc.that have been introduced either by the maker or supplier, to make managing them irritating. Under the hood they may be pretty much the same. But it doesn't make it less annoying when I try to do something with one and the menu item I need isn't where I expected it to be. Or when an app loads onto one, but appears not to on another.

  8. Richard Lloyd

    98.2% of Android devices run old OS versions

    The latest Android release is KitKat (4.4.X) and only 1.8% of devices run that, leaving 98.2% running "old OS versions". Hence a major WTF for the article title including the phrase "Not anymore".

    Countering that, Google have managed to push updates to older OS'es without a version change, either by splitting previously core code into a Play store app (e.g. Google Keyboard) or by silently updating Google Play Services.

    It's probably the only ways to work around the huge disincentive barriers there are for carriers to upgrade Android on their models (1. It costs them time and money to put their unwanted bloatware on top and have it go through certification and 2. They want to sell you new Android device every year, so if they upgrade old ones, people may keep the old device for another year or two, the horror of it).

    My attitude to all of this is simple - only buy Nexus devices or devices that you can install a custom ROM (e.g. CyanogenMod) on - that way, you'll be quickly onto the latest release without having to wait many months or not see an upgrade at all (I'm looking at you Huawei, with your Ascend P1).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 98.2% of Android devices run old OS versions

      aka 98.2% arn't on the bleeding edge. Just because something has moved on x.x.1 of a version doesn't mean that you NEED it. In most cases you barely notice that anything has changed after an update.

      An android app will happily run on any of these popular versions without doing anything special whatsoever. Fragmentation has always been simply an excuse with little to no factual backing.

    2. Dexter

      Re: 98.2% of Android devices run old OS versions

      Even Nexus devices don't always help. I have a Galaxy Nexus which has Bluetooth LE.

      I've upgraded it to Android 4.3, which has Bluetooth LE support.

      Can I use Bluetooth LE? No, I can't because the kernel on the phone doesn't have a BLE driver, and Samsung say they won't release an updated kernel.

      Possibly a custom kernel would fix that, but my experience with custom kernels has been bad - phone dead or refusing to boot.

  9. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    It's partly a numbers game

    When version 2.x of Android was out, 'only' 200 million smartphones a year were selling. Now it's a just hit 1 billion a year. So the new is bound to outnumber the old. Plus there was that rather weird gap with Android 3, which was the emergency tablet version, that barely made it onto any phones. So there was quite a big gap between 2 and 4, and therefore a jump in hardware requirements.

    I don't follow Android as closely as I did, but hasn't 4.4 been out for about 6 months now, and only has 1-2% of the market? So there's still a slower uptake of the newer OS versions. But it probably doesn't matter as much, as improvement is slowing down.

    However, fragmentation was only one criticism. The more important problem is security updates. Are Google still issuing secruity updates for 4.0? And whatever version you're on, even if Google are still fixing bugs and security holes - what good is that, if you're manufacturer and telco can't be arsed to pass them on to you?

  10. drewsup

    kit kat

    i thought the whole point of 4.4 was unification of past models , 4.4 is supposed to run on devices with only 512 Mg of ram, this will bring a lot of older sets up to date if, that's a big if, the carrier releases it.

    I have a cheap Chinese tablet running JB, would love to upgrade to 4.4, but Rockchip chips while popular, have little support.

    I also take the point of view that is just a friggen OS if my device meets the minimum specs ,why is it such a pain to upgrade, if the video,wifi,audio were supported in the previous version OS, why not now?

    1. Brian Morrison

      Re: kit kat

      It's often difficult to upgrade because the hardware vendor withdraws driver support for the chipset used in older phones, mainly because they don't have the resources to work on old hardware while simultaneously developing and releasing future and current hardware.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old Devices

    Whilst its true that manufactures are only shipping 4.4 largely on newer devices, there is probably a 4.4 or a 4.3 rom for pretty much every droid out there assuming if your willing to root it, just had a quick look at xda devs and even the G1 got a 4.1.1 Rom.

    Ok sometimes manufactures dont open source drivers and later roms suffer from bad drivers, but assuming its a popular device a way around the issue normally surfaces given time.

    I know others might disagree, but to me androids fragmentation (choices), bounds of different roms that has driven innovation, take for example cyanogenmod, for a long time (some would argue they still do) were at the forefront of all the custom rom players, they introduced new features, which eventually got swallowed up and became part of android on later builds something that will never happen on other close garden platforms.

    The fruit bats can say what they want about their iwhatevers, your comparing appfails.... and oranges.

  12. John Lee

    New OS's screw up the phone

    I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 2. I got it as soon as they came out and it was 100% reliable. I think it was running 4.1. After a few months the OS got updated to 4.2 and the phone became completely unreliable. Random restarts, persistent crashes you name it and it had it. I ended up doing three factory resets, deleting all the apps and starting again. In the end I rooted it and put Titanium on it and stopped some of the crap that Samsung/Vodafone bundle on their phones. The phone now is stable and I get a crash about every four or five months as opposed to one or two an hour when I was using it before. As this is the third android phone I have had and every one has had very adverse effects to be "upgraded" to the newer OS's I will not unroot it and install 4.3. The first Android phone I had became almost a brick after it was updated it was that useless. In the future I will root every Android I get so that it will never update as these updates are not voluntary, you cannot avoid them. The phones work great out of the box so that is how I will keep mine. If others have had the same issues then that is maybe why they are not running the latest OS?

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