Although Google's Android has made some impressive leaps forward over the last two years, roughly half of its users aren't seeing those improvements because 50.8 percent of Android devices are still running Android 2.3, known as Gingerbread.
The figure comes from Google's developer website, whose data is based on the number of devices that have accessed Google Play within a given 14-day period.
As Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle points out, Google released Android 2.3 on December 6, 2010 two years ago this week. The new data from Google, updated Monday, shows that the two-year-old Gingerbread still has wider distribution than any other version of Android.
Android 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, appears on 27.5 percent of devices, according to Google's data. Android 4.1 and 4.2, both known as Jelly Bean, appear on 5.9 percent and 0.8 percent of devices, respectively.
Android is a much different and better operating system than it was two years ago. Hardware acceleration, introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich, enables smoother navigation, while a new visual style, called Holo, lends a sleeker look to the interface and built-in apps. Google has added plenty of useful features in Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean as well, including a spell-checker, improved copy-and-paste, real-time voice dictation, an overhauled voice search app and a virtual assistant called Google Now.
The problem is that phone makers and wireless carriers tend to abandon support for older Android phones before long, and even high-end Android phones are lucky to get more than one major version upgrade over their lifetimes.
Phone makers have trouble delivering upgrades for a few reasons: Differences between Google's Nexus hardware and other Android phones require extra coding; the custom user interfaces that phone makers slap onto their hardware must be integrated with any new version of Android; and the testing process required by wireless carriers requires additional time, effort and resources. As a result, older phones tend to get left behind.
Google has tried to improve the fragmentation problem with a couple initiatives. In 2011, it announced an Android Upgrade Alliance, whose members promised to keep their phones up to date for 18 months. But that effort appeared to fall apart, and this year, Google announced a platform development kit meant to assist phone makers with the upgrade process. Though it may be too early to tell if the second effort is making a difference, the fact that Jelly Bean adoption is still under 7 percent isn't encouraging.
Android enthusiasts may argue that average users don't know what they're missing no harm, no foul but that's the most tragic thing about it. A much better Android is out there, yet half of users associate the platform with an inferior experience. That can't be good for the long-term health of Google's mobile OS.