Can Android ”O” de-fragment Android ?

Google enjoys a dominant position smartphone operating systems with close to 85% of the market. To keep up with its main rival Apple, Google announces new Android versions at least annually, with new features and updated security. The timeline shows the release date of the different Android versions since the beginning of Android 1.1 (Alpha) up to May-2017.

Timeline: Android Launches

Android Fragmentation Overview

As of May 2017, 62% of Android smartphones are running on a version, which is at least 2.5 years old or older. This is a worrisome sign for Google, as it has failed to simplify the process for Android upgradation. It has also failed to bring sufficient differential factors to encourage OEMs to adopt new Android versions.

Older versions fail to deliver new features to end consumers and are also potentially vulnerable to malware attacks. This scenario is common across different vendors, regions and price bands. Even the leading OEMs have so far failed to ship their products with the latest Android versions.

By contrast, Apple’s iOS is the 2nd most popular smartphone operating system. Apple has tight control over its ecosystem and has able to manage iOS distribution across its platform. The two latest versions of iOS contributed 79% of the iPhone as on in Feb 2017. With full control over hardware and software, Apple is in a better position to serve its consumer with easy roll out of new features across its installed base of devices.

Android Vs iOS Comparison

Source: Apple Installed base, Feb 2017, Android Installed base distribution, May 2017

The penetration of older Android versions is higher in lower price bands, however only a small proportion of higher-end smartphones are shipping with the latest Android version. This leads to a situation where there is no easy solution to resolve the fragmentation issue.

Looking forward

Google is working on the low-level system architecture to separate core Android functionality from additional OEM’s optimizations. This will potentially result in faster update implementation. But it will itself take time to implement and may also experience push back from OEMs because it implies Google taking more control of the core Android stack.

Google Treble Implementation

There must be a trade-off between true open-source and fragmentation. It is becoming necessary for Google to address this issue considering future artificial intelligent (AI) driven feature implementation will become a critical part of any smartphone OS.

AI promises to be a significant change for the way consumers interact with smartphones. Google has significant assets in AI that it will look to deploy through the huge installed base of Android smartphones. Google Assistant on Android is the first step. However, it needs to open APIs to help third party developers take advantage of some of the core aspects of AI.

It will also help Google enhance its AI by channeling more and more data through its servers. Data is the lifeblood of an AI system.

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