Beautiful charts highlight the diversity and troubles of the Android ecosystem

Beautiful charts highlight the diversity and troubles of the Android ecosystem
Around here, we don't really go in for the term "fragmentation", because Apple (somewhat hypocritically) has seen to it that the term only has negative connotations; and, while Android does have its share of issues, not all problems can be put under the single banner of "fragmentation". So, while we don't agree with OpenSignal's title for its survey data, we do love the beautiful charts the data has created showing the diversity of the Android ecosystem, and we do appreciate that OpenSignal has tried to bring back some positive meanings to the "f-word". 

OpenSignal has performed a survey of 682,000 devices in the Android world, and the numbers are pretty crazy. According to the data, the diversity in the Android ecosystem has exploded in the past year. When OpenSignal performed the same survey last year, using the same number of devices, it found 3,997 distinct Android devices; but, this year the data has shown 11,868 distinct devices. Of course, despite that Samsung is still the king of the castle and has been found to be the manufacturer behind 47.5% of all Android devices. 

(note: sorry the chart keys get cut off, our page layout has a limit, and the keys on the charts don't scale like the charts themselves.)

And, you can see when you switch between last year's results and this year's that Samsung has pushed out all competition from the top spots on a per device basis. Last year, HTC had a few entries near the top of the list with its Desire, EVO, and Sensation handsets; but, this year HTC has dropped off and the only devices that come close to Samsung are Nexus devices (one of which was made by Samsung anyway.) When looking at the combined device numbers, it is even more apparent how far ahead Samsung is compared to the competition.

On the Android version side of things, the logical conclusion of that diversity above comes out in an issue that can be troubling for developers, and one that Google tracks on a monthly basis: platform distribution. While Android has the developer tools to combat the multitude of screen sizes, display resolutions, and hardware configurations that you'll find, it has yet to get a handle on making developers update the software more reliably. Low-end handsets (which have boosted the number of different handsets hugely) often run older versions of Android, either because the hardware can't handle the newest version, or the manufacturer simply doesn't want to spend the resources to develop the update. Android 4.x is steadily taking over the ecosystem, and there have been rumors that Android 5.0 will be focused on bringing low-end handsets to the newest API level.

Of course, despite the outrage that is heard on this topic, the platform distribution is not really a problem for users, but rather an issue for developers. The only users who know and care that their device hasn't gotten a software update are the very vocal minority in our own readership. The vast majority of users don't know and don't care what Android version is on their device, because the apps still work just fine. And, if you are in that vocal minority, you are partially to blame for your own situation, because you have the added knowledge of how the ecosystem works, and still chose a device that is less likely to receive an update than say a Nexus device. 

Lastly, the data shows the variety of screen sizes available in both Android and iOS (interactive versions of these charts are at the source). As you would expect, the screen sizes are far more varied in Android (the thicker the line, the more frequent the screen size), and there are only a few different screen sizes in the Apple world. Of course, as we've talked about before, just showing charts like this doesn't explain the difference that Android has responsive design, and so apps can automatically adapt to any screen size; whereas, iOS does not have responsive design tools, and requires developers to create assets that will fit each screen size individually. 

Both approaches have their trade-offs. In the Android world, you may get apps that scale to fit a larger screen, but are still not optimized for that larger screen. And, on iOS you can have apps that are tagged as "universal", but simply run in a scaled iPhone layout on an iPad. Or, in both cases, you may simply have developers who don't bother to make tablet versions at all, and will actively remove tablet compatibility from Android apps that would otherwise scale to fit. 


Google's plan was to make sure Android was on as many devices as possible, and it certainly is succeeding on that metric. The developer tools continue to mature and allow developers to make sure their apps work on as many of those devices as possible, although what features are accessible can be a sticking point because of the varying API levels on the devices. Google is continuing to try to persuade manufacturers to push updates and bring devices up to the newest version of Android, but persuasion only goes so far, and Google is not the type of company to force manufacturers to comply. 

Ultimately, this makes for an ecosystem rife with choice, but one where users may have to put in a bit more work to understand the benefits and drawbacks of choosing certain devices, if that user really cares about having the newest OS version at all times. As you might expect from such a diverse ecosystem, the choice is out there, if you know what you're looking for.

source: OpenSignal via The Verge
title image source: Animoca



1. yousef8824

Posts: 36; Member since: Jul 28, 2012

its true galaxy y gt-s5360 sold 16 million devices

2. androidiningrat

Posts: 1; Member since: Jul 30, 2013

The beauty of Unity in Diversity (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika)

23. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

And One from Many (E pluribus unum) Cheers!

3. akki20892

Posts: 3902; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

4. Berzerk000

Posts: 4275; Member since: Jun 26, 2011

"Samsung is still the king of the castle and has been found to be the manufacturer behind 47.5% of all Android devices." No wonder Samsung is on top. Anyways, I really think to solve all this nonsense about "fragmentation" on Android (in terms of version distribution) is to allow the user to choose between vanilla Android and Android with OEM skins. Then, it will be up to the user to either be up to date with Android or be behind in updates but have benefits of added features from manufacturers. It might be confusing to more mainstream consumers, but I'm sure sales representatives will be able to explain it.

5. maketas

Posts: 7; Member since: Jul 30, 2013

So i am the one responsible for Android fragmentation for not purchasing a 300 dollars Nexus 4 instead of accepting offers on phones at Amazon and other retailers (subsidized or not) that can get me a better phone for a lower price point? Are you serious? That is the ultimate google fandroid comment. The problem is for developers not for users? Although many apps have been developed with Android 2.3 in mind and makes many versions (2.3, 4.0, 4.1, Gmail app is an example), the extra effort made by the small developers to support a myriad of devices instead of focusing on the contents of their apps affects the users directly, suffering from that non-existant Android fragmentation. Not too uncommon nowadays for new apps only supporting Android 4.x. And the users do get annoyed when you tell them that they can not install this or that app on their one year old smartphone because, well, Android works that way for manufacturers and carriers. Ok, all the common apps do work, but some people likes to install new apps from time to time, and many can not. I hope that the Android 5.0 gives a solution to that non-existant fragmentation soon.

6. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

That's why I italicized the word "partially". If the software version on your device is really that important to you, then yes you are *partially* responsible for knowingly choosing a device that won't have the newest software. You are obviously part of the vocal minority that I specifically mentioned, so remember: you are an outlier. You are not the "average" user. You care about things that most people never even consider. You have the burden of knowledge. Most people don't know or care about the various APKs that exist for various platform versions, all they care about is that they can get their Gmail (which they can).

12. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

Michael H.: 1. Your twisted logic is the same as a woman who wear short skirts deserves to be raped as she is *partially* responsible. 2. Opinions ARE NOT facts. It's nice to read Michael H.'s VOCAL opinions, but where is his proof? In contrast, there is so much overwhelming proof against Michael H.'s assertions. 3. The AVERAGE user of an OS wants free updates -- why is that so hard to understand? We are not in the minority. The industry standard has always been free OS updates -- unfortunately, android OS doesn't follow the industry standard.

14. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 894; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

ur comments make no sense. 1. Ur comment shows how pathetic u r with ur weird mentality. 2. u r asking proof, but not giving any to support ur own claim. 3. U say android doesnt give free updates. That is the most retarded argument. Shut up

15. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Rather than trolling and attacking me. Why not try refuting my points with reasonable argument? Sure, the average user is happy when they get a free update, but most don't know or care that they are missing out on an update.

17. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

His logic that people are responsible for their own situation because they performed due diligence and decided on a different course of action anyways isn't flawed, it's common sense. For example, if I decide to buy cheeseburgers for every meal instead of something healthier, am I not at least PARTIALLY responsible if I gain weight and put myself at a higher risk of heart-attack? After all, I did the research and went through with my decision anyways. Sure, I might clamor for a healthier cheeseburger from the manufacturer, but to deny that I had any responsibility in the issue is insane. The only problem I have with Michael is that he feels he even needs to mention this. I would've taken it for granted that people are responsible for their own decisions. Also, to equate this situation with rape is a bit far. (Granted, so may equating it with obesity and heart-failure, so you've got me there.)

19. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

You may take it for granted that people are responsible for their own actions, but many people would rather blame their problems on others than take that responsibility on themselves.

20. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

I'll admit that I bitterly intended that part to come off sarcastically.

28. quakan

Posts: 1419; Member since: Mar 02, 2011

The part that sticks out to me is when you said, "After all, I did the research and went through with my decision anyways." Your average consumers does not research what to eat based on health benefits, they simply eat what they like and what tastes good. Recently, McDonalds stated that posting calories by each of their meals has had very little affect on what their customers chose to eat. They came to the conclusion that their customers continued to eat what they liked regardless of the health benefits or risks. Michael's point was that the vocal minority (i.e. phone geeks) are partially to blame because they have the knowledge to know which phones are most likely to receive timely updates yet still chose the budget/older device option. Us phone geeks need to remember that we are not the average consumer so our views/wants/needs don't always match those of everyone else in the market.

29. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

I wasn't saying that the average consumer knows all about the health-benefits of choosing one food over another, I was saying that if people that have done research, yet choose the unhealthy path anyways, have little reason to blame the provider. I don't think the issue is with us tech-savvy folk choosing "budget/older devices." The issue is that they choose high-end flagships such as the S4, Note, and One which are produced by companies that have a history of taking their time with updates, at least compared to the Nexus series. Last year I purchased an Evo 4G LTE the day it was launched. At the time of its launch it was arguably the most advanced commercially-available smartphone on the planet. I purchased it, however, knowing full-well that I would probably always be at least one Android version behind. I made my bed, it's been very comfortable, and (while I certainly would be pleased to have the latest version of Android) I'm more than content to sleep in it.

37. Shatter

Posts: 2036; Member since: May 29, 2013

Oh internet, the only place where I can find people comparing phones operating systems to rape...

22. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

As one of that vocal minority, I accept that I could have gotten a fuller set of upgrades had I chosen a Galaxy Nexus (even the Verizonized version), but am nonetheless miffed to be stuck on 4.0.3. I guess even with HTC/Verizon's track record, I still expected a bit more effort. If Jellybean weren't such a major improvement in smoothness, it wouldn't bother me as much. Your statement about knowingly buying a non-Nexus has been moot for the last year for half of Americans though. Anyone on Sprint or Verizon simply does not have that option. And as a Verizon user not in a major metro area, I am not willing to trade a solid network for the Nexus experience. We can only hope that the Moto X is close to stock and gets updated quickly. But given that extant Motorolae are still running 4.1.2, I'm not getting my hopes up.

7. Mxyzptlk unregistered

There's several things wrong here. 1. Why would you mention Apple in an article about Android? You're usually complaining about trolling and yet you stir the pot with that line about Apple and fragmentation. While it does exist somewhat on iOS it's nowhere near as as bad. Most of the time, it's because of the developers and not Apple. 2. You do realize that only 15% of Android devices will see JB 4.2 and that's if you're lucky. Many haven't even updated to the previous version yet. How doesn't that qualify as fragmentation?

8. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

1) Apple is the reason why the word "fragmentation" is so prevalent. 2) OS distribution doesn't equal "fragmentation". I've written on this extensively, and the articles are linked above. All your questions are answered there.

9. Mxyzptlk unregistered

1. Even if that was true, why would you mention it here where it'll only cause an argument? 2. Considering that os distribution can prevent the implementation of new and or current features I'd say it does. Why not just answer my question here since you already brought the issue up?

11. waterninja21

Posts: 28; Member since: May 03, 2013

Answer for your first question is They are the Media and that is what they do.

18. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

1) Because not mentioning it would be just as hypocritical as Apple's claims that OS distribution alone solves all problems. And, because it relates to charts given in the actual data regarding screen sizes and development. 2) As Apple has proven, ubiquitous OS distribution doesn't always correlate to the implementation of new and current features. As I've said in the article, the word "fragmentation" is essentially meaningless, because it tries to cover too many issues, and implies that the fix for all of these issues can happen in the OS itself. Yes, there are problems with OS distribution, which is more due to manufacturer support than the system itself. Maybe JB 4.2 will only hit 15% as you say, but JB 4.2 is an incremental update, which is why it is still under the heading Jelly Bean. As of now, Jelly Bean as a whole is at almost 37% of the ecosystem and growing every month. The problem with your argument is that you're trying to blame the train for the crash, when there are a lot of other factors involved.

13. ardent1

Posts: 2000; Member since: Apr 16, 2011

"the platform distribution is not really a problem for users, but rather an issue for developers" - MH And who benefits from these (app) developers???? That's right, the end-users. Duh!! There is a saying that applies here: six of one half dozen of the other. It's the same problem, but MH doesn't get it and continues to blame Apple. The f-word got started because App developers were complaining about the mess android created, and Apple (namely Steve Jobs) picked up on it and ran with it on an earnings call.

16. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Yes, developers were annoyed by the problems in Android early on, but those issues have largely been removed with subsequent updates to the developer tools (regardless of updates to actual devices). The tools allow an app to be written once and run on any devices that the developers choose, and offer a consistent experience across devices. I blame Apple for getting everyone to bundle all Android problems under the same word, which implies that the only way to fix all of those problems is by changes made in the system itself, which is not the case. Some of the problems can be fixed by Google, some need to come from manufacturers, and some from developers. Using the word "fragmentation" reduces the problems to something that can't be discussed reasonably.

24. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

why would yo go and spend time on an actual reply for trolls like Mxy and ardent? I mean you are not taking them seriously are you?

25. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

Michael can recognize they're trolls, yet still acknowledge that their trolling comes from an actual (in Mxy's case, usually misinformed) viewpoint. I give him credit for trying to change minds and not just dismissing them out of hand.

34. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Never respond with anger or annoyance, because that just feeds the troll. But, as you may notice, the troll's mortal enemy is calm, sound logic.

10. james004

Posts: 486; Member since: May 15, 2013

This may sound like a bad idea but developers should only concentrate on latest mid tier and high end devices. So essentially 4.1 API and 4.5-5.5 inche and up screen size with 720p. That is as universal as it gets on android

21. grahaman27

Posts: 364; Member since: Apr 05, 2013

And yet it does not matter :) everything works just fine on all my devices.

26. Loubielou

Posts: 603; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Symbian was so simple an easy to use,an very good on batterylife,so Google just copied this onto Android,but Android can be very annoying to run an can become very costly,as Google have missed out on Android the Function we All want the "Exit" Button,as using a function an then stopped using it,the function is still running so Drains you battery Quicker than Expected,i had the Nokia N8 an could get 2-3 days without charging,but with Android you might just get a days usage,an its very costly running your phone,using Advance Task Manager helps a little,so want more Applications on Android that does not drain the battery an help consumers out,Samsung have not thought about this on the S4,Come on Google just offer the Exit function on Android an it will become more succesful

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