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January 05, 2012

Android is Becoming More Fragmented, but Does Anyone Care?

By Beecher Tuttle, TMCnet Contributor

Apple (News - Alert) co-founder Steve Jobs took a number of shots at Android over years, even going so far as to tell his biographer that he was willing to "spend every penny" of Apple's bankroll to "destroy" Google's mobile OS.

While most of his distaste for Android was due to the fact that he thought it was a complete rip-off of the iPhone (News - Alert), Jobs also condemned the operating system for its fragmented approach.

In a famed October 2010 conference call, Jobs suggested that Android's open nature – a reality that he said Google (News - Alert) "loves to characterize" – effectively splinters the operating system into hundreds of different versions, meaning it’s the users that are "left to figure it all out."

"We think Android (News - Alert) is very, very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day," Jobs said at the time.

Those wondering about the accuracy of Jobs' prediction got an updated answer this week, when the folks over at Android Developers released their new distribution research. To make a long story short, he was right.

Looking at the numbers, Android is about to get really fragmented really fast. Currently, just 0.6 percent of Android phones are running the latest version of the OS, Ice Cream Sandwich, and just 3.3 percent are using the new tablet-optimized Honeycomb OS, which is itself made up of three different versions.

Meanwhile, around 55 percent of Android phones rely on the older Gingerbread software, while another 30 percent are running its predecessor, Froyo. Shockingly, more than 10 percent of Android handsets run on Android versions 1.5, 1.6 and 2.1, three of Google's older operating systems.

While more than half of handsets are running on one OS – Gingerbread – you can expect the mix to thin out even more when Ice Cream Sandwich-powered models start to flood the market.

Either way, consumers don't seem to mind nearly as much as competitors. Android increased its U.S. market share to 46.9 percent at the end of November, up from 43.8 percent. iOS followed in second with a 28.7 percent market share.

Truth be told, most consumers don't seem to know that their phone is running an older version of Android. The majority seem to find out when they get a new phone, and by that time they no longer care.

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Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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