Google has revealed the full details of its new operating system, Android Oreo. The OS, for mobiles and tablets, is the firm’s most feature-rich so far and brings a host of new capabilities for users.
Formerly dubbed Android O, the new code features a picture-in-picture mode, instant apps that don’t require full versions to be downloaded, and boosted privacy protections for users. However, many people with Android handsets won’t see the latest additions for some time. “They’re doing all these wonderful things to evolve the platform but people aren’t getting them,” says Roberta Cozza, an analyst at Gartner. “Users get deprived of all these new features.”
Google regularly publishes statistics on the adoption and spread of Android’s various versions. These figures are well known within the industry and show the percentage of users on each version of Android that’s visited the Google Play store within the last seven days.
These figures show that the majority of users aren’t up-to-date with the latest releases. Oreo’s predecessor, Nougat, is the most widely available version at the moment and it is on 12.3 per cent of Android phones. Marshmallow, which was released in May 2015, is on 32.3 per cent of phones, with the version before this, Lollipop, accounting for 29 per cent of devices. Gingerbread, which is dated back to 2010, is still present on 0.7 per cent of devices.
Analysis by Jan Dawson, from Jackdaw Research, published at the time Android Oreo was announced, looked a little deeper at these figures. His conclusions: “it’s likely that no more than a third of Android’s installed base will ever use Oreo.”
Dawson says that within the first 12 months of each Android OS being released there’s been a “lower penetration” than the version before it. Nougat achieved just 14 per cent penetration, while Jelly Bean, which came out in 2012, had 38 per cent of the market share. With each year that passes it appears, based on Google’s figures and Dawson’s analysis, the percentage of people using Android’s latest software is slowing down.
“Oreo, meanwhile, won’t likely make a serious dent in the user base until early next year,” Dawson wrote in his analysis. “And it will likely be the most-used version of Android sometime around late 2019”. Google says it doesn’t comment on analysis conducted by third parties but pointed out there are two billion active Android devices being used currently.
While these estimates look likely to be correct, there are a few reasons why adoption rates aren’t as quick as Apple’s. Tim Cook’s firm says 87 per cent of iPhones and iPads are using iOS 10, the most current operating system. Only three per cent of devices are running a version earlier than iOS 9.
To start with, when the latest version of Android is released it doesn’t go out to every phone. When Oreo gets released it’ll only be available on a handful of devices: the Nexus 5X, 6P, Nexus Player, Pixel C tablet, and the two Pixel phones produced by Google. Other manufacturers’ devices will be supported at a later date, instantly meaning most Android devices won’t be able to run Oreo from its introduction.
Dawson says he believes a lot of people aren’t using the latest Android versions because of their phone’s manufacturers. “Handset vendors don’t have strong incentives to push updates to their users once devices get over a certain age,” he says, “It detracts from the appeal of a hardware upgrade, which is their only real opportunity to lock someone into their ecosystem for another few years.”
This, he says, is a recurring problem when there are “many parties with fingers in the pie”. There’s also an issue of timing: many device manufacturers announce and release devices at the Mobile World Congress conference, which takes place at the start of the year. For Nougat and Oreo, Google has released the public versions of these in August of the previous two years. “That’s too late to make it into the fall flagships, and months before the spring flagships launch,” Dawson says.
There’s also a part of the picture we don’t know about. Google’s dashboard of figures doesn’t cover Android devices from every part of the world. “That dashboard only talks to you about the devices that have a connection to Google Play,” says Cozza. “You might argue that the situation is even worse as the dashboard doesn’t take into account all the devices that are in China that cannot have any connection to Google services and Play”.
The adoption problem is a difficult one for Google to solve, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t trying. In May this year, it announced Project Treble, which it has launched with Android Oreo. In a blog post, it recognised that phone manufacturers spend a lot of time and effort making their latest handsets compatible with a new version of Android, and put forward a new feature that will help speed up the process.
In Oreo and beyond Google has decided to split off the device specific code that’s needed from each manufacturer from the main systems that underpin Android. By separating the two parts it means, in theory, that manufacturers won’t have to alter as much code to get the operating system to work on their own phones. If it’s successful, more devices will be able to run the latest version of Android easily, bringing the new features to users sooner than before.