Jan13

Is Operating System Fragmentation a Concern for Mobile App Developers?

When Mobile App Developers take a look at the two predominant platforms in the mobile space – iOS and Android – they see a tale of two different kinds of users.  In the iOS ecosphere, it seems as soon as there is a major upgrade to the hardware or the operating system, the masses move to quickly update and adopt.  Yet those who have Android powered devices don’t seem as willing to rush to the newer stuff.

Since the release of iOS 7 last September, Apple is currently reporting that 78% of Apple mobile devices – iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch – are now running the new operating system.

iOS Installed Operating System Versions and Percentages

iOS Installed Operating System Versions and Percentages

Meanwhile, Google also pushed a new version of the Android operating system, when Kit-Kat, aka Android 4.4, was pushed at the end of October.  Admittedly, the Kit-Kat rollout only was made available to select Nexus and Motorola devices, but it only registers a 1.4% adoption rate as of this writing.

The bulk of Android users seem to have made version 4.1.x, or Jelly Bean, their preferred operating system, with 59.1% of the base having installed version 4.1x – 4.3, which all fall under the Jelly Bean code name.

Much of this slow slog to the latest operating system isn’t due to a lack of desire on the part of the users.  Rather the device manufacturers have to customize the OS a bit to run on their smartphones and tablets.  When you keep in mind that the hardware producers and the carrier networks are more interested in selling a new device and resetting the terms of the carrier contract with each sale, the motivation to offer a free upgrade to the OS can be lacking.

How does this impact Mobile Development for Android or iOS?

The problem for developers, of course, is in deciding what OS to embrace.  That is relatively easy for iOS developers, as they can safely code with iOS 7 functionality in mind, knowing that they will produce a solution that four out of five iOS users can readily adopt.  If they back fill to iOS 6 as well as iOS 7, then they are hitting 96% of the user base.  That’s the beauty of a closed eco system, where Apple is producing both the hardware and the Operating System.

With Android app development, it won’t be the easy to come up with a comprehensive plan.  Take a look at this table of the various builds and adoption rates of the various flavors of Android:

Android Version

Codename

API

Distribution

2.2 Froyo 8 1.3%
2.3.3 –
2.3.7
Gingerbread 10 21.2%
3.2 Honeycomb 13 0.1%
4.0.3 –
4.0.4
Ice Cream Sandwich 15 16.9%
4.1.x Jelly Bean 16 35.9%
4.2.x 17 15.4%
4.3 18 7.8%
4.4 KitKat 19 1.4%
Android Installed Operating System Versions and Percentages

Android Installed Operating System Versions and Percentages

Clearly there are a lot of potential customers that might not be able to use your app if you don’t account for multiple variations of Android OS when you code.

Even if you go with the path of least resistance – and just focus on the three versions of Jelly Bean – you’re still ignoring 40% of users who are on Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich or Kit Kat.

We can’t tell you what to do – the needs of your client are going to have to drive that – but we can tell you that if you want to hit as many Android devices as possible, you are going to have some additional development challenges and problems to overcome.  As such, be sure to factor those into your scope of work estimates.  As far as your clients can see, there are two operating systems – iOS and Android.  It is up to the developer to clearly explain to the customer that there are a lot of variations beyond the top lines, and to adjust expectations accordingly.

How have you dealt with this issue?  Are you clients willing to adjust their expectations when you share the details of platform fragmentation?  Let us know your stories in the comment section below.

2 Comments

  1. […] rapidly with the vast assortment of phones to be released this year capable of running KitKat. The fragmentation issue that Android suffers so heavily from is also partially addressed as KitKat will run smoothly on all […]

  2. […] build because it allows you to see how users interact with your app. For Android developers, fragmentation is a major concern they must overcome due to OS variations. Android emulator is a great tool to test Android […]

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