On November 12th, 2011 the latest Android OS, Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) became officially available as an open source download, and on December 15th, 2011, it made its public debut. Three months later, the Nexus S (the earlier flagship Google Phone) is the only device which has received official over-the-air updates to Ice Cream Sandwich. One might blame Google for lacking an effective distribution plan or failing to provide manufacturers’ early access to the OS – however, the problem may be deeper seeded than that.
Almost across the board, mobile manufacturers have been adamant on implementing their own software tweaks (known as skins) on top of the factory version of Android OS provided by Google. This has led to significant delays across the market in terms of software rollouts. Given the historic tendency of Android releases to first debut on a small number of devices, and then make it out to the overall market, Chitika Insights sought to investigate the current level of Ice Cream Sandwich penetration across all Android powered devices.
To quantify this study, Chitika Insights analyzed a sample of tens of millions of mobile ad impressions all running some version of Android OS, spanning a one week time frame, from February 24th to March 1st, 2012. Web market share is composed by calculating the proportion of Android impressions represented by each version of the operating system. The resulting distribution shows the current levels of market fragmentation within the Android market.
As shown in the graph above, after three months on the market, Ice Cream Sandwich is currently generating only 1.54% of all Android web traffic. This poses a stark contrast to Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS (Android’s biggest competitor), where over 90% of iOS users are on the latest two versions (only about 4.5% of users are on Android 3.0 and 4.0 combined). Apple’s lower OS fragmentation is likely due in part to the fact that they maintain control over their entire supply chain from manufacturing to distribution.
Android market fragmentation continues to be a significant problem for the platform, as reported in this prior Chitika Insights study. First, the current levels of fragmentation can act as significant barriers for developers who become forced to create applications running across all versions of the OS. Mobile developer Mika Mobile stated that they stopped work on Android as it requires too much support and expense compared to other mobile platforms. The necessary legacy support for Android app developers (and the extra work it produces) may reduce the number of apps available going forward, which could certainly have an adverse effect of product sales.
What’s next for Ice Cream Sandwich? The next phone scheduled to come to market with ICS preinstalled in the Samsung Galaxy S3, which became available internationally on March 13th, with no word of when the update will make it to the U.S. markets. If your cellphone provider is Verizon, they have listed a slate of devices which will get the update as 2012 progresses. HTC and Motorola have also stated that they plan to roll out ICS updates to a select list of devices, which could drive increases to the Ice Cream Sandwich share of the Android OS, and encourage further manufacturer support.
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