Android 5.0 Lollipop was released in November. In February, a full three months later, TechCrunch reported that fewer than 2% of Android devices were running it. Now, in March, that number still hovers around the 3% mark.
Compare that to Android’s primary rival. Apple released iOS 8.0 in September and by November, just two months later, over 60% of iPhones were running the latest version — and that’s actually slow when you look at the adoption rate of previous iOS versions.
What gives? Why do Android devices update to the latest version so much slower than their competitors? Why isn’t your device running Lollipop yet?
The Problem Is Android’s Design
As it turns out, the issue of slow update rollout and even slower update adoption is nothing new when you look at Android’s version history. We looked at Android’s fragmented version adoption all the way back in 2011, yet very little has changed since then.
The issue stems from Android’s core design philosophy: an open environment that can be adapted and customized and presented by anyone who can manufacture a phone. That openness is one of Android’s biggest selling points because Android users love freedom, but it comes with a few big problems — like Android app piracy.
Despite officially being available in November, Lollipop was actually only available to certain Nexus devices at the time. Why? Because manufacturers adopt and develop updates at their own pace, which is also why those same manufacturers announced Lollipop availability estimates.
By contrast, iOS is a single ecosystem that’s tightly maintained and regulated by Apple. They don’t have to bother with HTC, Samsung, and Motorola versions of the iPhone; rather, any given iPhone is the same as the next, so updates are easier to test and faster to push out.
And really, that’s what all of these Android delays come down to: the sheer number of devices that need to be supported.
It All Starts with Google…
Let’s say you and your two friends each buy the same LEGO kit (which can actually be put to a productive use) and use it to build a unique creation. A few months later, LEGO releases another kit and all three of you purchase it so that you can improve what you’ve already made.
Each of you has to incorporate those new pieces, but the process is going to be different for each of you because your creations are all constructed in different ways. You might find it easy to adapt, but your friends might struggle and take longer to get it working.
But before we delve into that, let’s look at what it takes to produce those new LEGO kits (read: new Android versions) in the first place.
Google works on upcoming Android versions behind the scenes. Once they announce a new version to the public, Google provides the source code for that version on their website so that carriers and manufacturers can evaluate it and decide which devices will support the new update.
Looking at the pattern of its history, Google tends to announce new Android versions every 6 to 12 months, often favoring to release between July and November but sometimes choosing to deviate if the circumstances call for it.
Once the source code is available, it’s up to manufacturers to get it packaged and ready for customers in a timely fashion.
…And Ends with the Carriers
A little over a year ago, HTC released an infographic detailing the elaborate process that’s required to transform a new Android version into something that can be pushed out onto current devices.
Going back to the LEGO analogy, let’s say you’re HTC and you need to incorporate these new LEGO pieces into what you’ve already built. For that, you need to speak with carriers and see what they want.
Maybe AT&T wants pieces A, B, and C in their devices while T-Mobile wants pieces X, Y, and Z in theirs. There are 100+ carriers around the world, and they each want something different. As HTC, you’ll need to accommodate many of them, which means building and testing hundreds of variations.
Once bugs are squashed (and trust me, there will be plenty of bugs throughout the process), those devices need to be approved by said carriers, plus Google, along with any other region-specific regulatory bodies.
When all of that is settled and done, HTC can finally prepare their over-the-air (OTA) servers with all of these device-specific updates. Once the servers are ready, HTC users are notified of an available update that can be downloaded and applied.
Other manufacturers operate in a similar fashion.
As you can tell, it’s an involved process that requires a lot of time thanks to the numerous back-and-forth exchanges between all of the requests, tests, and iterations that are common to any software development process.
What Version of Android Are You Running?
So why isn’t your Android device up to date yet? Maybe your particular model doesn’t support the latest version, but the more likely explanation is that you just need to wait a bit longer.
Does Android’s slow rollout process annoy you? Is it enough to make you switch to iOS? Or are you content putting up with it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!