You know as well as we do: It’s been over six months since Google has updated its Android distribution dashboard — the monthly updated chart that lets us know roughly what percentage of users are running different Android versions. For us, it’s the most reliable way to tell you how quickly companies roll out new Android versions to their phones. It’s also a good way to find out just how many people out there are still running Android Gingerbread.
Starting today, Google is rolling out an update to its Android distribution dashboard with new Android version market share numbers current to May 2019.
When we last checked in way back in October 2018, Android Oreo had only been rolled out to 21.5 percent of Android devices, despite being officially available to manufacturers for over a year. Now, Android Oreo’s numbers have shot up significantly to 28.3 percent.
Android Pie had only been available for a couple months back in October, and it wasn’t installed on enough phones to warrant a place on the pie chart. Now, Android 9 Pie is installed on roughly 10.4 percent of all Android devices. This time last year, Oreo was only installed on 4 percent of devices, so it appears manufacturers are rolling out Android updates quicker. Google’s efforts with Project Treble are likely to thank for that increase.
Elsewhere, Android 7-7.1 Nougat has dropped slightly from 28.2 percent to 19.2 percent, Android 6 Marshmallow has dropped from 21.3 percent to 16.9 percent, and Android 5-5.1 Lollipop has dropped from 17.9 percent to 14.5. Android 4.4 KitKat’s numbers dropped from 7.6 percent to 6.9 percent and Jelly Bean dropped from 3 percent in October to 2.2 percent. Ice Cream Sandwich and Gingerbread are still holding on, both with with .3 percent.
What took so long for these numbers to be updated?
It’s been six months since the last update to the distribution numbers. What gives?
Initially, Google’s data feed was under maintenance, hence the lack of updates. But the company wanted to take that time to not only fix the issue but also address a bigger, underlying problem: Simple Android update pie charts like this one don’t tell the whole story. Sure, major software updates are an important thing to track — we track it religiously here at Android Authority — but simplifying Android updates to a single point-release pie chart completely disregards other important parts of the Android update process such as Google Play Services, monthly Android security patches, and even the fact that developers can target different APIs for various Android versions. These things are important, and we’re happy to report that Google is taking this into account going forward.
Major point releases are important, but so are Play Services and monthly security patches.
A Google spokesperson told Android Authority that Google is working on building a more robust way to notify users on Android distribution numbers. Sometime in the coming months, these Android version pie charts won’t be so simple. They might still exist, but there will be more context explaining what Android updates really mean, why Play Services is such an important factor, which manufacturers have been updating their phones on time, and more.
Going forward, updates to these Android distribution numbers will be less frequent, so we shouldn’t expect new numbers to report in June 2019. When new updates are issued to the dashboard, they’ll be more meaningful and, frankly, more interesting to talk about.
Why do Android updates take so long?
Since we don’t have Android distribution numbers from November 2018 – April 2019, it’s hard to see if OEMs have been taking longer or shorter amounts of time to issue major updates to their phones. From the data we’ve collected overtime, though, we can see that, overall, Android updates are rolling out quicker than they have in recent years.
First, take Google’s metric from May 2019: Android Pie is installed on 10.4 percent of Android devices, which is a 2.5-percent increase from Android Oreo’s 4 percent market share at this time last year.
Project Treble is probably the biggest contributor to the increase. On average, we found that Android Pie updates rolled out to OEM Android devices just 118 days after Google rolled Pie out to its Pixel devices. By comparison, it took Android Oreo an average of 170 days to roll out, while the pre-Project Treble Android Nougat took an average of 192 days to roll out.
With that said, there are still plenty of phones running older versions of Android. That’s because people are holding onto their phones for longer periods of time, so the number of active devices running older Android versions will still stay pretty high (the continual increase of flagship phone prices may also contribute to this). There are also still a number of low-cost devices that launch without the latest version of Android and may never see a major software update.
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.
The increased rate of release for major Android versions may be one of the biggest reasons for this tend, as shorter OS version shelf lives equal lower market penetration. Jelly Bean was available 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 was the only recent software version to buck the trend, releasing almost a year to the day after Nougat, before Pie arrived 12 months after that. According to an AMA with the Android development team in July, Android versions will stick to an annual schedule going forward, which could mean less fragmentation going forward. That’s also in line with Google’s purported Android Q update timeline.
Like we stated previously, 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.