A Quick Guide To Android Versions & Updates [Android]

Matt Smith 22-07-2011

If someone tells you they’re running Android, they’re not saying as much as you’d think. Unlike the major computer operating systems, Android is a broad OS that covers numerous versions and platforms.


Understanding the constellation of options can be a bit overwhelming, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’d like a quick-and-easy way to make sense of Android’s many builds, as well as how to update to the latest, read on.

Fragmentation Station

Although Google’s mobile operating system has been successful, it has been plagued by a singular but severe problem. That’s fragmentation – the tendency of Android to fragment into numerous different versions.

This is why retailers and carriers often market devices based on the version of Android they carry. The latest build for smartphones has been out for months, but isn’t available on many phones sold in stores. Then you have tablets, which are a different situation entirely.

Let’s quickly run through the Android updates sold on the market today.

Android 1.x

android updates


Android 1.0 was release on September 23rd, 2008 on the HTC Dream (known as the G1 in the US). It’s long gone, but there are still some devices sold that use Android 1.6. These are generally budget tablets or inexpensive smartphones like the LG GT540 Optimus. This build is significantly out of date. While it includes Androids basics, like the Marketplace and and Widgets, it lacks support for many camera features, lacks Adobe Flash or HTML5 support, and lacks support for newer versions of Bluetooth.

Avoiding Android 1.6 devices is wise. It can be tempting to save money on a smartphone or tablet by going for a product running this older version of Android, but in the long run it’s not worth the savings.

Android 2.x

updates for android

This is the latest line of updates for Android smartphones, with the newest build being Android 2.3. Most smartphones sold today run Android 2.2 or 2.3.


Although 2.0/2.1 is an improvement over the 1.x builds, you’ll definitely want to buy something with 2.2 or higher. Why? Because that’s when support for Adobe Flash was added, and it’s also when WiFi hotspot functionality was added. In addition, the latest Android Marketplace 2 Alternative Online Marketplaces for Android Apps The Google Play Store is now a media behemoth, but that doesn't mean alternative marketplaces aren't available or worthwhile. Here are two that you should definitely check out. Read More revision requires Android 2.2 or better.

Android 2.3 is the latest edition, and it includes some nifty extras like native VoIP support and a new download manager. Although not an essential feature, buying a smartphone with the latest build certainly won’t hurt.

Android 3.x

updates for android

Also widely known by the code-name Honeycomb, this version of Android is available only for tablets and will likely never be released on smartphones. If you are purchasing a tablet, this is the version of Android you want. Accept no substitutes!


The interface of Honeycomb is much different from other versions of Android, and major elements like the keyboard, notifications system and web browser have been redesigned to take advantage of the larger displays found on tablets.

Android 3.1 is the latest build, but it’s not a major update. It adds support for peripherals like external keyboards and gamepads and makes some minor changes to the UI.

Updating Your Android Device

android updates

With the information above you’ll be better equipped to buy a new Android device, but what if you already have one and want to update it to the latest version?


Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as downloading a file and installing a patch. New versions of Android are distributed to smartphones on a device-by-device basis. In other words, the release of Android 2.3 is not something a user downloads directly from Google. Instead the update, if it is available for your Android, would be delivered when you run Software Update through the Settings menu.

With that said, you may be able to update to a newer version of Android without official support by rooting your phone How To Root Your Android Phone With SuperOneClick Read More and installing a ROM based off a newer version. The process of doing this can be laborious and is generally different for each device, so it’s wise to check out the XDA Developers forum and look for information about your device.


Personally, I think that Google should do a better job of reducing fragmentation in the future. The wide variety of Android updates running wild is out of control. At the very least, it could provide an official guide for users who need to know information about the version of Android their device is running and what that means. I’m not holding my breath – but a geek can always hope.  What do you think?

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  1. Andrea Freygang
    August 6, 2011 at 2:04 am

    Take a lesson from Internet Explorer and force people to upgrade. From a developer's standpoint, IE is a freaking nightmare to code for.

  2. Anonymous
    July 23, 2011 at 1:11 am

    disagree with guest above.  unlike different OS's rolling out for Windows, Mac, etc, this OS has different effects based upon which hardware you are using - even from the same company (e.g., HTC, Samsung...)  PCs eventually had to standardize.  And in its infancy, so does cell phones.  It's as much a fault of the hardware as it is the OS.  For example, that is why one cannot run Netflix on four of the five newest Android phones, but it will run on many of the older ones.

  3. fran cisco
    July 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    yes, this can be dangerous for android , 
    some one should get this article to google,

    they should make a video explaining how its not their faults but the phone companies

  4. Eric
    July 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I would go as far as saying moronic.  There are certain things done on versions that aren't don on others. For instance, I'm saddled with a Verizon version of the Samsung Continuum that will not be getting a 2.2 update, but will remain with a custom 2.1 "patch." With Windows, I complain to Mircosoft. With this phone, I have to complain to Verizon or Samsung. And Google says "hey, leave me out of it."

    • Eric
      July 22, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      "wouldn't" ... oh well.

  5. Guest
    July 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    The basic preface of your article is moronic.  You state "Unlike the major computer operating systems, Android is a broad OS that covers numerous versions and platforms."

    So when someone tells me they are running windows that automatically means I know which version?  Or could it be 95, 98, ME, XP, Vista, 7?  And don't all of those include enhancements over the previous.  The same could be said for Mac's OS ?.

    Now, the one point that could have been made is that if you go to buy a PC you are most likely going to get one with the latest operating system pre installed, where with Android phones you may not.  But to say there is no fragmentation in "major computer operating systems" is crazy.

    • M.S. Smith
      July 29, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      The basic preface is entirely accurate.

      Of course there are different versions of Windows throughout history. That's obvious, and also beside the point. The issue with Android is that there are different versions for different devices, and individual phone manufacturers are allowed to significantly redesign Android as they see fit. See: Apple suing Samsung over TouchWiz.

      In addition to this, Google doesn't do enough to make sure its users are up to date. Windows, for example, includes a baked-in update functionality that works for all PCs with Internet connections and works the same for all these PCs, as well. Android also includes baked-in updates, but they arrive piecemeal at the whim of manufacturers and/or carriers. 

      I agree that it's crazy to say there's no fragmentation in major computer operating systems. Fortunately for me, I never said that. What I am saying is that Android is more fragmented than Windows or OS X. 

    • Ananaanal
      July 30, 2011 at 10:49 pm

      You need to learn to READ before writing and talking bad things.
      Android is different, you can´t compare to Windows or even to Mac.