Google has released the final batch of Android distribution numbers for 2017. The data for December shows continued growth for Nougat and Oreo, while previous versions have dropped once again.

According to Google’s stats, Android Oreo is now in use on 0.5% of devices – an increase of 0.2% since November. The arrival of Oreo on more and more devices besides Google’s own Pixel and Nexus handsets will have contributed to its steady gains this month.

Nougat, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength, jumping just under 3%. It’s overall 23.3% share still has some way to go before catching the current leader, Marshmallow (29.7%), but another month of impressive growth should see it finally surpass Lollipop (26.3%), which only holds a meager 3% lead over all versions of Nougat.

Despite leading the charts, Marshmallow and Lollipop both suffered significant losses, with the former registering the largest drop of 1.2% since November, and the latter falling by 0.9%. Minor decreases for Jelly Bean (specifically versions 4.1 and 4.2) saw it drop below 6%, while Gingerbread (0.4%) and Ice Cream Sandwich (0.5%) now represent less than 1% of the Android population.

You can have a look at the pie chart below for all versions of Android:

Google

While there’s nothing too surprising about December’s numbers, the biggest takeaway is that Nougat is within touching distance of second place. Should the first results of 2018 mirror the latest changes, Nougat will finally budge Lollipop out of the way.

In fact, it’ll likely be only a few months until Nougat ousts Marshmallow too. The slow trickle of Nougat upgrades for older devices will help this natural progression along, but the real boon for Nougat continues to be the recent crop of flagships – such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, and OnePlus 5T – that run 7.1 out of the box.

Conversely, this scenario has been a detriment to Oreo’s early lifespan, but the signs are positive for Google’s latest OS. With Sony, HTC, Nokia, and Huawei steadily pushing Oreo updates to select devices, it’s only a matter of time before Oreo enjoys another significant bump – especially with Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus Oreo beta program now in its third stage.

Are Android updates getting slower?

From KitKat, to Lollipop, to Marshmallow, Nougat and now Oreo, each new version of Android appears to be hitting fewer devices and doing so in a slower fashion (see the chart below). Why is that? It’s possible that OEMs are becoming less concerned with rolling out updates quickly, which would explain the weaker curve in the graph below, but this likely isn’t the major issue (OEMs are probably well aware of the importance consumers places on timely Android updates).

We know that people are also holding onto their phones for longer periods of time, which means the number of active devices running older versions of Android stays high. As the price of flagship phones continues to rise, this could slow the rate of Android adoption rate even further as fewer and fewer devices with old software versions stay in service.

Furthermore, there are still Android 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.

However, the increased rate of release for major Android versions may be one of the big reasons for the shape of the graph above. Jelly Bean was out for about 16 months before KitKat arrived. KitKat stuck around for slightly over a year followed by Lollipop which just scraped past 11 months before Marshmallow hit the scene. Then Marshmallow was only out for ten and a half months before Nougat showed up in mid-August. Oreo is the only software version to buck the trend, releasing almost a year to the day after Nougat. Shorter OS version shelf lives equal lower market penetration.

The other key factor here is that each new Android version arrives with more Android devices in circulation, meaning its immediate impact is decreasing. When all of the major OEMs got their flagships up and running with Ice Cream Sandwich, it represented a significant share of Android phones because there were far fewer of them. There are more than two billion monthly active Android devices in use now, so there is simply more ground for the latest Android version to cover.

Being on the latest version of Android isn’t as important as it once was, though. With Play Services, for instance, Google can push out important updates to just about every Android device without the need to bake it into Android (thus requiring an entire software update). Plus, a good amount of OEMs have been focusing on rolling out the latest Android security patches to their devices, which means Android phones aren’t as vulnerable to attacks as they once were.

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