updated 01:00 am EDT, Fri June 21, 2013
Non-comparative graphic emphasizes difference in iOS, Android bases
Shortly after using Google's own chart of Android version distribution to compare the nearly-uniform use of iOS, Apple's own chart has made a new appearance on its public developer site, reminding developers that coding for the iOS platform means writing for only two similar versions and a smaller range of hardware -- a distinct advantage over Android for both developers and users. The pie chart is similar to one used by Google to show the breakdown of distribution of various versions of Android.
Apple's release of iOS 6 was adopted by nearly all the users who had compatible hardware -- which at the time went back three years -- within the first week of release, a phenomenon unknown outside Apple's mobile platform. At the Worldwide Developer's conference keynote, CEO Tim Cook noted that the Google chart -- which has recently been rejigged to weight more recent versions that rely more on Google Play for services more heavily and shrink the percentage of older versions -- still showed five different major iterations of Android in use, with three of them roughly tied at 30 percent or so each, the oldest going back four years.
Not noted by Cook was that some Android devices are still sold today, despite being years out of date and unpatched for security issues, and that by its own adjusted count more than a third of Android users are still on that system. Another five percent are still on even older systems (only active devices with access to Google Services are counted; Amazon's Kindle Fire, some Chinese Android brands and other offshoots are not counted). By contrast, only six percent of active iOS users are still on the previous version of iOS, and only one percent are using anything older than last year's OS.
The stat tells developers that iOS users tend to stay current with the most recent operating system, making the job of coding applications that can run on the platform far easier. Also to Apple's advantage is that it releases only a few supported models, all of which use Apple's ARM-based processor. On the Android platform, like Windows before it, developers must include compatibility for not only a wide range of OS versions, but also for a dizzying array of different manufacturers, processors, graphics systems and tiers of hardware and subsequent limitations.
Another issue only rarely brought up by Apple is the issue of carrier reluctance to allow upgrades, further exacerbating the issue of "fragmentation" of the Android platform. While Google's own branded devices (made for them by Samsung and Asus among others) tend to receive updates in a timely fashion, carrier-controlled devices often don't get upgrades -- even those primarily addressing security issues -- until weeks or months after the fact, if ever. Carriers, critics charge, have an incentive to hold back upgrades outside of the time it takes for them to customize a update with their own "skins" and apps: the lack of upgrades encourages buyers to abandon phones more quickly and get new equipment.
The problem means that, for example, two thirds of Android users cannot access Google Now's predictive search and assistance technology -- even though 99 percent of iOS users can, as AppleInsider notes. Adobe's Photoshop Touch for Android requires OS v4.0, meaning roughly half of Android users can't run it. Developers also frequently ignore new Android features, such as its latest notification system, in favor of sticking to a version that works on a wider range of hardware.
Apple doesn't allow vendors to sell any new hardware that can't support the latest and at least two future major upgrades, unlike the manufacturers who use versions of Android to make more than 400 different hardware models. The splintering of versions and lack of updates contributes heavily to the fact that Android devices are the target of almost all new mobile malware and virus threats -- a problem all but unknown on iOS. Apple also tends to support older models better -- the iPhone 4, originally released in 2010, will run iOS 7 when it comes out later this year. That will be the fourth OS version the model has been able to support, though it should be noted that some of iOS 7 and 6's more advanced features do not work on the iPhone 4 due to hardware limitations.
An attempt by Google in 2011 to persuade carriers to promise at least 18 months' worth of updates to all Android hardware was soundly rejected and abandoned. While Apple's chart does not directly draw comparisons to any Google statistics on its page, for developers and users the implications are clear.