Android version distribution: Nougat and Oreo up, everything else down

November has been a big month for Nougat and Oreo. All other Android versions have dropped, just like last month.

Today we’re getting a look at Google’s distribution numbers for November. Google releases these numbers every month to help us keep an eye on where the Android world is moving. While last month saw Oreo show up at 0.2% and modest gains for Nougat, the story is a little bit different this month. Nougat has jumped almost 3% across all versions while Oreo has moved from 0.2% to 0.3%.

While the Oreo gains are modest, Nougat had a big month. We’re seeing the jump as more devices are being updated to or released with Nougat. It still trails Marshmallow and Lollipop, but the gap is certainly closing. October saw Lollipop and Marshmallow hold 5.2% and 16.2% leads respectively over Nougat, where November sees those numbers drop to 3.2% and 13.4% respectively. While those may not seem like big movements, keep in mind that Android is running on over 2 billion devices worldwide. Each small movement represents tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of devices.

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

As you may have expected, all versions of Android from Marshmallow and older have seen a decrease in their representation. Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich now only total 1% of Android devices combined. All versions of Jelly Bean have dropped a combined .4% and KitKat dropped .7% from 14.5% to 13.8%. These numbers aren’t expected to fluctuate much as the devices are too old to update. Most of the change can be accounted for by users upgrading to devices that run Nougat, Oreo, or another operating system.

Devices running Lollipop saw a relatively minor drop, with Android 5.0 falling from 6.7% to 6.4% and Android 5.1 fell from 21% to 20.8%. Marshmallow remains the most popular version of Android on Earth even as its losing users. October saw Android 6.0 Marshmallow capture 32% of Android users, whereas November’s show it at 30.9%. The 1.1% drop is the largest among all versions of Android from October to November.

Nougat has been seeing comparatively small monthly gains since it first appeared on the LG V20 last September. It generally increases by one or two percentage points per month on average. November was a bit more kind to Nougat as all versions jumped a combined 2.8%. Android Nougat 7.0 saw a 1.8% increase from 15.8% of all devices to 17.6% and Android Nougat 7.1 jumped from 2% to 3%. As devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30, which have Nougat pre-installed, continue to sell across the globe, and older devices continue to be upgraded, we are bound to see an even more dramatic shift in the distribution chart in the coming months. As for Android 8.0, that minuscule figure is set to go up as more and more the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XLs end up in the hands of customers.

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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