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How Android evolved: version shares from 2013 to 2015

From Froyo and Gingerbread to Lollipop, Android has undergone some significant changes in the past two years. We examine how the ecosystem has changed.
December 5, 2014
Google Lawn Statues of Android versions

2015 may be all about Android Lollipop, but Google’s operating system has evolved substantially over the past few years. Thanks to Android distribution data collected by Davide Coppola, we can see exactly how the worldwide Android ecosystem has changed over the past 24 months. Time to dig into the juicy data.

Fragmentation, as you may have guessed, is still an issue, of sorts. However, with smaller differences introduced with the more recent versions of Android, there are very few app compatibility issues these days. Although that obviously doesn’t address the need for smartphone developers to keep on top of security fixes.

Fortunately, the days when huge numbers of Android users were still stuck on Gingerbread are behind us. Today 90 percent of all users are running Android 4.0 or higher. Let’s watch how this evolution took place.

Android OS Evolving

Two years ago this month Android was transitioning through ICS and Jelly Bean, and away from the prevalent Gingerbread version of the operating system. Those of you around back then will probably remember all of the talk about fragmentation issues and slow updates. Over the past twelve months minor revisions of Jelly Bean have caused even more fragmentation. It’s only in the last six months that we have started to see KitKat and Jelly Bean 4.2 take up huge, consistent shares of the market.

Gingerbread usage has fallen from just over 50 percent in December of 2012 to as little as 9 percent this month. Android Ice Cream Sandwich commands a similarly small share, with the vast majority of Android users now running various versions of Jelly Bean and just over a third of users on KitKat. Even so, usage of Gingerbread and even Froyo will likely hang on over the next couple of years until older handsets are phased out.

Collectively then, Android 4.X versions have managed to become even more widespread than the mighty Gingerbread. However, KitKat has not individually come close to the 50+ percent peak achieved by Gingerbread two years ago this month, only Jelly Bean has managed a larger install base. With more time, KitKat may have caught up, but this seems less likely now that Lollipop has arrived.

A really interesting trend to note is that KitKat uptake surged in comparison with the various Android versions. The single 4.4 iteration grew as quickly as 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3 combined. Its share has grown rapidly in the past 6 months, with a 250% growth since last June, to become the most widely used individual version number of Android today, although technically Jelly Bean’s three different version numbers pinch a higher combined share.

Anyway, this bodes well for Android Lollipop, as we have already seen a good number of OEMs make great speed in preparing and releasing Android 5.0 builds for their older smartphones. We certainly hope to see version 5.0 rise at least as quickly as KitKat, if not even faster.

The only problem with Lollipop, if we’re being really picky, is that it’s landing at a time just when the Android ecosystem is starting to look unified. It’s inevitable that a transition over to Android L is going to take a while and not all Jelly Bean or KitKat smartphones will be updated, let alone the 10 percent or so that are running even older versions. Whether or not this leads to app or security compatibility issues remains to be seen, but the changeover to ART and the potential of 64-bit applications could leave some left out again in the not too distant future.