The latest mobile operating system statistics show that Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android is more fragmented than ever, with three different versions of the platform representing two-thirds of all devices, while Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) latest version of iOS runs on 91 percent of iPhones and iPads.
The tale of two very different platforms is told by the latest data from OpenSignal, which has tracked nearly 19,000 total distinct Android devices this year, up from just under 12,000 last year. Samsung remains the dominant maker of Android devices, with a 43 percent share, while the most popular Android hardware is its Galaxy S III smartphone.
The plethora of device makers, many of which with their own custom skins and modifications to Android, only contribute to the fragmentation issue. And the number of distinct devices on the market tracked by OpenSignal has exploded from just 4,000 in its first report issued in 2012.
When Android fragmentation is measured purely among Google's major releases, the leading installation is 4.1 "Jelly Bean," found on 26.5 percent of devices. Next is the most recent version of Android, 4.4 "Kit Kat," with a 20.9 percent share.
In total there are five different versions of Android with more than 10 percent of the market. The remaining three are 4.2 "Jelly Bean" (19.8 percent), 2.3.3-2.3.7 "Gingerbread" (13.6 percent), and 4.0.3-4.0.4 "Ice Cream Sandwich" (10.6 percent).
Meanwhile, only one version of Apple's iOS platform holds more than 10 percent share, and it's not even close: iOS 7 is at 91 percent, while iOS 6 holds just 8 percent. Earlier versions of iOS account for only 1 percent of installations.
The OpenSignal data breaks down mobile operating system installations based on new application programming interfaces made available to developers, referring to it as "API fragmentation."
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The data is also broken down for screen size fragmentation, another area where Apple has a key advantage over Android for developer simplicity. Apple's iOS platform has been limited to four different physical screen sizes, thanks to Apple's use of pixel-doubling when upgrading to Retina displays. On Android, though, there are countless different screen sizes, which OpenSignal said is "hugely challenging" for developers trying to create applications that can work well on a range of devices.
For its latest report, OpenSignal surveyed 682,000 total devices running its app. The sample size was kept the same as its fragmentation reports from 2013 and 2012 for a fairer comparison.
This July, Apple published another milestone for its current mobile operating system. As of July 26, iOS 7 was running on 90 percent of all iOS devices (currently at 91 percent). A recent report from OpenSignal compares that to Google’s current mobile operating system, Android 4.4, which is only running on 20.9 percent of devices.
The report refers to fragmentation on Android and the benefits and problems that exist for developers. The company notes that the wide range of Android devices available to consumers makes it possible to reach the largest number of users. Developers have a greater global reach than with iOS. However, the variety of devices running Android makes it difficult and time consuming for developers to make apps that run across all devices.
The report shows that, based on data gathered across 682,000 devices, Android fragmentation has quadrupled since 2012. This year, 18,796 distinct Android devices were tracked as compared to 3,997 two years ago.
Additionally, based on the research done by OpenSignal, the 10 most popular Android devices represent only 15 percent of all devices, down from 21 percent last year. The report notes that, contrary to popular belief, fragmentation benefits Android more than it hurts it. Consumers across the world in a variety of economic positions make it possible for Google’s operating system to reach more people.
It is interesting to think of Android’s prolific fragmentation as being a benefit instead of a hindrance. Even in OpenSignal’s report, the company notes that the incredible variety of screen sizes on Android-based devices presents coding and layout challenges for app developers. All of Apple’s various iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices make up a total of four screen sizes.
However, if sheer number of devices on the market with any Android operating system, no matter how old, is all that matters, than Google has certainly won that race. In spite of providing the latest OS in iPhones, the iOS 7 platform, the fragmentation in Android provides it a wider market than the rival iOS.