The latest Android version distribution numbers are out, and after more than doubling between February and March, Android Nougat has continued to spread, although not quite as fast as last month. Nevertheless, the Android Nougat update has now arrived for just under five percent of all active Android devices.

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We’ll dive into the numbers after the break, but you can see on our Android version distribution graph below that Nougat is now very much ramping up in the same way previous versions of Android have. However, if you look a little closer at the graph two things will immediately stand out to you:

1) Each new version of Android is not hitting the same peak saturation as the previous version, and

2) The uptake rate for each new version of Android looks to be slowing

We’ll have to wait another couple of months to see if Nougat’s uptake curve more closely matches that of KitKat in the graph below or Marshmallow, but there’s a definite softening of the rollout curve in Lollipop and Marshmallow compared to KitKat before them. With Marshmallow updates still hitting some devices now, the saturation point for Marshmallow may still be yet to come, but as previous versions have shown, once that line starts to level out it rarely trends upwards again.

What gives?

That begs the question: what is going on? Why is each new version of Android hitting fewer devices and doing so in a slower fashion? It’s due to a number of factors actually. OEMs could be accused of taking longer to roll out updates than in years past; this would explain the weaker rollout curve in the graph above. And yet, four major OEMs got their first Nougat updates out in under 100 days.

The inverse of this statement is also true though: if OEMs update their devices to a newer version of Android faster, the older OS version naturally won’t reach as many devices. We’ve seen several OEMs skip versions in the past to leapfrog to a newer Android update. That could explain the steadily declining peak saturation for older Android versions in the graph.

Another thing to consider is that several major OEMs have been putting out fewer devices each year and, as we’ve been reporting for a while now, the smartphone market generally has plateaued. That means fewer new phones in the wild.

People are holding onto their smartphones for longer and new Android versions are arriving at increasing speed.

People are also holding onto their smartphones for longer too, which causes the number of active devices running older versions of Android to stay high, something we can see reflected in the graph by the slower drop-off rate for each successive Android OS version. Another contributing factor could be more new devices launching without the latest version of Android out of the box, attributable to the rise of lower cost Chinese devices and increased market growth in developing countries.

The increased rate of release for major Android versions is probably the major reason for the shape of the graph above, however. A quick history lesson should suffice to illustrate the point: Jelly Bean was out for almost 16 months before KitKat arrived. KitKat stuck around for just over a year followed by Lollipop which just scraped past 11 months before Marshmallow hit the scene. Then Marshmallow itself was only out for ten and a half months before Nougat appeared in mid-August. Shorter OS version shelf lives equal lower market penetration.

This month’s numbers

But on to this month’s numbers. Android Lollipop remains the most prevalent OS version on just under a third of active devices, followed closely by Android Marshmallow. Both those percentages are on the decline though as Nougat continues to increase, from just 1.2 percent in February to 2.8 percent in March and 4.9 percent in April. With major devices like the LG G6 and Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus about to hit the market running Nougat out of the box, you can expect that number to increase a lot more in the coming months.

Both Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich have finally dipped below a percentage point each and Jelly Bean is about to drop into single digits. Android KitKat, which debuted on the Nexus 5 way back in late 2013 (has it really been that long?) remains on 20 percent of active devices. Lollipop has been trending downward since the middle of last year and Marshmallow looks to have started its steady decline, never quite reaching a full third of active devices according to Google’s numbers.

With over 80% of active devices in the last month sitting on KitKat, Lollipop or Marshmallow, we’re hoping Google will have a thing or two to say about, you guessed it, Android fragmentation at this year’s Google I/O, which kicks off in the middle of May. With smartphone security becoming an increasingly hot topic, the prevalence of older, less secure versions of Android on the vast majority of active devices is going to have to be addressed sooner or later.

Kris Carlon
Kris Carlon is a Senior Editor at Android Authority. He is a half-British Australian who lives in Berlin, travels a lot and is always connected to a laptop, phone, smartwatch or tablet (and occasionally a book).
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