It didn’t make the news the way Android Wear did, but that Google Play Services stat was a direct shot at Apple (AAPL) and its Android fragmentation criticisms. At the latest Apple developer conference, CEO Tim Cook displayed a slide reading “Android fragmentation is turning devices into a toxic hell stew of vulnerabilities.”
Operating system fragmentation is frustrating for smartphone and tablet owners, and a major headache for app developers. Apple has been making hay on the PR front for years because iPhone and iPad owners quickly adopt new versions of iOS.
Samsung (SSNLF), HTC, Sony (SNE) and other Android smartphone owners? Not so much. While Appleinsider reports that 90% of Apple devices accessing iTunes are now running iOS7 (the latest Apple mobile operating system), Google says just 17.9% of devices hitting Google Play are running the latest Android version, KitKat.
In contrast, more than 56% are running Jellybean (released in 2012) and 13.5% are running 2010’s Gingerbread. That’s why we say Android is fragmented.
Smartphones and tablets running Google’s operating system are also fragmented in another way: hardware. While Apple devices have come in just a few screen sizes and display resolutions over the years, the huge variety of Android hardware manufacturers has meant far more diversity in devices.
Here’s the basic problem with fragmentation: Google may say it has a billion Android smartphones in use. In theory, that makes it a huge target for app developers. But new apps take advantage of new features and new capabilities. That means they won’t work on older versions of an operating system.
There are also security implications as hackers compromise outdated versions of Android that lack the latest safeguards.
Having a bunch of different hardware variations — OpenSignal reported detecting 11,868 “distinctly different” Android devices on its network in 2013 — means testing an app and making sure it delivers the best possible experience for everyone using it becomes very complicated.
In short, Android fragmentation has given Apple an advantage in attracting top tier app developers, despite its declining share of the smartphone and tablet markets. It gave the company bragging rights with device owners too, since they get access to high quality apps that take advantage of the latest new iOS features.
There may be far more overall Android users, but with only a handful of hardware variations iOS is easier to develop for and with 90% of Apple devices running iOS 7, that means the vast majority of Apple’s user base can take advantage of new apps and the latest security updates.
And it doesn’t stop there…