Atavistic androids

Android is going from strength to strength. Around 600m of the nearly 2 billion smartphones ever sold use Google’s mobile operating system, estimates Horace Dediu, the boss of Asymco, a mobile-analysis firm. How odd, then, that nearly two-fifths of those that remain in active use, both old and new, rely on outdated versions of it.

Glenn Fleishman explains one of the biggest flaws of Android – how cheap handsets, fast development and loose controls by Google adds up to hundreds of millions of handsets running outdated and unpatched versions of Android operating systems.



  • jawbroken

    Actually, by Google’s own figures at http://developer.android.com/about/dashboards/index.html only 1.2% are on the latest version, 4.2. And only 10.2.% are on Jelly Bean. And, using the questionable definition of up to date from the article, only 39.3% are on 4.x, Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. Not sure where they got the idea that only two-fifths of those in use are outdated, guess they got it backwards and meant three-fifths.

    • http://twitter.com/GlennF Glenn Fleishman

      Terribly sorry: it is roughly 40% on 4.x. Many 4.0.x-4.1.x devices can, in fact, be updated and updates are promised. Thus it would be unfair to lump all of those into the 2.x mess (especially since 2.x is an actively sold and marketed release on many phones and other devices).

      If it turns out that, in a year, 4.0.x and 4.1.x remain stuck on most devices, well, then, that’s an even worse problem.

      • jawbroken

        Oh, okay, not sure I would hold my breath on all those 4.0 devices getting updates but it is more likely than the 2.x ones at this point. Thanks for clarifying.

      • JohnDoey

        Devices running obsolete software equals devices running obsolete software. No excuses.

  • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

    2/5′s better than I thought it’d be. It’s a slow ship to turn but looking forward to their changes to fix this taking place.

    • JohnDoey

      They announced they would fix this 2 years ago. A lot of people have been looking forward to it.

      In 2002, Bill Gates said Microsoft would fix their malware problem in the 2003 release of Windows, so Google must have been just as uncommitted as that with regards to Android fragmentation.

      • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

        Consider the cycle of phone upgrades (it isn’t 30+% ever year like iOS) and hopefully those changes will start showing. The latest devices have upgrade paths already from 4 to 4.2 (dot release aside, there are major updates) and we’re much better than we were 2 years ago with 2.3.

        So…yeah, I think the time is now and in the devices of this year, v5 should get the update.

    • http://twitter.com/Moeskido Moeskido

      I suppose it helps if you simply commit to buying a whole new phone every year.

      • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

        I don’t need anything to spur that on. I’m going to do that anyway, if not twice a year. I’m a dev so more devices is never bad and I’m a junkie (tablets, phones, computers, etc; practically anything with a UI and buttons). lol.

        • http://twitter.com/Moeskido Moeskido

          Fair enough. Consider the average consumer who might want a smartphone that has a somewhat longer support history.

          • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

            Average consumers don’t care. I ask one’s in my life all the time if they’ve updated and they have no clue one is even available, especially my wife.

            Point taken though but I think it is different on Android. With so many new devices and updates randomly across them, they end up getting blind to what’s updated. (from my experience)

  • Tvaddic

    I don’t think Google cares, what version they run. They only care as long as they get the ad money. It’s they get more money if you get an updated version. Like how Amazon doesn’t care if you have the greatest Kindle, Google doesn’t care if you have the latest Android version.

  • JohnDoey

    Most Android phones are feature phones, not smartphones.

    Funny how iPad running full-size native C/C++ Keynote, iMovie, etc. is not a PC but a $49 phone with a 2010 version of Android and no data plan that gets used for calls and texts is a smartphone.

    Basically, wherever you see “PC” or “smartphone” you can’t trust it. You should instead ask about usage. Most iPad users use iPad as a PC — you don’t necessarily even run the same apps from your iPhone. Most Android phone users use their Android phone as a feature phone — calls and texts almost exclusively.

    The big smartphone debate is about ecosystems, apps, platforms, monetization, and the transition from a user’s primary PC being on a desk to being in their pants pocket. If a user has been paying $49 for a phone for 10 years and all they do is calls and texts, that is a feature phone user, doesn’t matter if their latest phone runs Android. That user is not buying apps, music, books — they aren’t participating in an Android ecosystem — they just bought their 4th crappy Samsung feature phone in a row is all.

    I think Android is basically a way for IT/CS nerds to continue to try and save face after the humiliation of iPhone. The hippie computer company with all its “effete designers” (in the view of IT/CS people) obsoleted all the other computers and so there is this mass hysteria to pretend Android is the solution to that. Every year Android is cast as a new kind of anti-Apple hero. In 2008 it was going to totally replace iPhone — iPhone was just going to fade away with other iPods while Android-based phones would be better, do more, be cheaper, and most of all would be Nerdy like Nerd God intended, forcing doctors and lawyers and artists to learn Computer Science and subjugate themselves to their I-T consultants. Then every year since then, a new story every year: now Android is just for “low-end smartphones” (previously “feature phones”) and now it is only from Samsung and now it is only for international users and so on. It’s just a giant exercise in denial, like almost everything Microsoft has done in a year that starts with 20. Talking about how Android will finally beat the iPhone at its own game this year keeps Nerds occupied, and they never tire of it.

    So articles like this are just statistics. “Hey everybody, I noticed that if we lie and pretend that Android is one united computer platform like iOS, and we lie and pretend that the Android phones that have been sold are “smartphones” just like iOS, we can just about come up with something mildly impressive to say about Android.” There is absolutely no connection to the real world in these pro-Android tech articles. Go back to 2008 and read them year by year — it is pathetic. Remember how coming late to Verizon doomed the iPhone? Android people do. Remember how App Store approvals were going to cause software developers to “bolt to Android en masse?” Android people do. Remember how Android was going to provide a diverse ecosystem of devices that users were going to flock to because “not everybody wants a full-face touchscreen with no keyboard?” Android people remember that.

    Google is literally $20 billion in the red on Android, and nobody in the world even has a speculative theory on how they make that back, or how future development gets funded. Samsung warned investors over the past few weeks that Samsung expects phone profits to fall dramatically because they are facing competition now. There are way more carriers with Apple phones now, no more hiding from Apple. And Samsung phones have no stickiness because most users only do calls and texts, which they can get from any $0 Huwai phone. And iPod nano is one revision away from becoming a handset. So an interesting Android article would plot the best-case scenario of 2013–2015 for Android. Tell me how great things will be over the next 2 years (again) so that in 2015 we can look back at yet more Android failure.

  • http://twitter.com/Moeskido Moeskido

    I remember an interview with Patrick Stewart, at the outset of TNG’s third season, in which he described the show as having gone “from strength to strength.” I winced.