It has been two months since the newest Android version, called Android 9 Pie, was released by Google. The new operating system, which brings a lot of updates, improvements as well as fresh features, is now available for Google’s own Pixel line-up of phones as well as the OnePlus 6. However, that clearly is not enough, as the company’s latest Android distribution numbers don’t even register the presence of Android 9 Pie. This means that the newest Android version is clocking in an even lesser share in the entire Android ecosystem than Android Gingerbread—this has just 0.3% share now and was released back in 2010.
As per the latest Android distribution numbers, Android 9 Pie’s predecessor, the Android Oreo 8.0 and 8.1 has a share of 13.4% and 5.8% respectively. As if to prove the fact that Android devices are not updated regularly by manufacturers, Android Marshmallow (also known as Android 6.0—and was released in 2015) clocks the maximum share at 21.6%.
This does not paint an encouraging picture for Android and Android updates as a whole. Clearly, not much has changed in terms of phone makers taking their own sweet time to release newer versions of Android for devices they have already sold. That is, if at all they release updates.
But, what are the reasons for the delayed and sometimes completely ignored update situations?
The vibrancy of the Android ecosystem, often lauded as the breath of fresh air to Apple’s controlled ecosystem of iOS software and the hardware that runs on the iPhone and iPad, is perhaps its biggest pain point too. Device manufacturers are free to use whatever specs they want—processor, graphics, display type, connectivity modules etc. That means, there is no single update that can work for all devices—each piece of hardware needs its own software patches to work. Getting all that ready takes time.
Secondly, customization was always pushed forward when making the case for Android, and a lot of breath has been spent trying to explain how an “open” ecosystem that allows phone makers and users to customize the software running on their phone, is better than an iPhone. However, whenever a new Android version comes around—be it a major update or a minor security release—phone makers have to then optimize every single customization, app or feature they have added themselves, on top of Android.
Now combine that with the work needed to go into testing and optimizing the earlier mentioned hardware as well, and it clearly sounds exhausting. Nevertheless, the blame squarely lies at the doorstep of the phone makers.
Then there is the school of thought that all users don’t necessarily want the latest Android on their phone. And there is the portrayal that they are happy with the Android running on their phone. “Not everyone is a geek,” it is generally said. However, one must not forget that the newer Android released sent out by Google, aren’t only meant for the geeks and the tech enthusiasts. The newer releases also bring in security patches, which are perhaps essentials in a day and age when malware attacks as well as threats to your data safety are increasing rapidly. Google also introduces new features to improve performance as well as battery life—and you’ll not get the advantages of this if your phone maker doesn’t send out updates for your phone.
What was perhaps Android’s biggest strength, is also clearly something that is holding it back.