Google has officially rolled out the latest version of Android, version 7.0 Nougat. For the most part,
it looks great. Among its many additions are a multi-window mode that lets you run two apps onscreen simultaneously, a more polished and capable notification panel, and, naturally, more emojis. It’s not a monumental upgrade, but it’s a step forward.
The issue, as always, is that very few people are actually going to see it — at least not while it’s new.
According to Google’s Android developer dashboards
, 15.2% of Android customers were using version 6.0 Marshmallow as of August 1. That’s twice as much market share as it had this past May
, but still a fairly small amount for an update that’s been available for 10 months. Meanwhile, 35.5% of users were on some form of Android 5.0 Lollipop, while 29.2% were on Android 4.4 KitKat, which launched in late 2013.
This fragmentation problem is anything but new for Google, but it’s worth reiterating with today’s launch: Android is beholden to the device manufacturers that use it, as well as the carriers that service those OEMs’ devices. Year after year, very few of those companies are capable of and/or willing to supply their customers with everything their devices could do.
Lately, a chunk of them haven’t even committed to rolling out of Google’s monthly security updates on time, putting an already iffy piece of software with regard to keeping data secure on even shakier ground.
As hackneyed as it is to say, it has to be noted that iOS doesn’t have this problem. According to Apple’s developer support page, 87% of iDevice users were on the latest iOS 9 update as of August 15. Another 10% were on 2014’s iOS 8 update, while just 3% were on anything before that.
This doesn’t mean iOS is “better” than Android. Rather, it’s another reminder that Google faces structural, industry-wide issues that Apple has done well to bypass. (Though it’s allowed Google to have a much higher global market share.)
Android Nougat does nothing to fix them. Right now, the only way to ensure you get those updates quick is to buy a Nexus device. Even that has its limits, though — Google confirmed on Monday that Nougat’s rollout doesn’t apply to 2013’s Nexus 5 phone or Nexus 7 tablet, a faster cutoff than what Apple’s doing with iOS 10.
Beyond that, Google would either have to make some sort of major technical change that allows it to update Android itself, or some sort of major contractual change that puts more pressure on Android-using companies to push updates faster.
Whatever happens, Nougat is what we’ve got today. Here’s hoping you don’t have to wait too long to see it.