Android brand fragmentation

Michael DeGusta has produced an informative chart showing how the mass of Android phones is not being updated with the latest Android software releases. He contrasts this with a much stronger level of upgrade support from Apple iOS, which is innovating just as rapidly. To me, the chart shows the extent of Android brand fragmentation at the end user level, where the rubber meets the road. Instead of the Android brand being a seamless user experience through upgrades and support, Android users are often stuck in older and more limited Android versions with no hope of upgrade during their contracts. Instead of briskly marching its users forward with upgrade innovations and fixes, the Android brand is stumbling and limping, and sometimes just stops.

The result: Android brand loyalty may be tenuous.

Android users deprived of an optimal Android experience

Android’s brand fragmentation deprives Android users of an optimal Android experience. At the device level it’s a piecemeal brand can’t deliver the full value behind it. At a time when both Android and Apple iOS are innovating feverishly toward a deep and wide-ranging mobile experience, a scatter-shot Android brand experience can hardly build the brand loyalty that Google needs going forward. For example, it’s not a good sign when surveys indicate current Android users prefer the iPhone over Android, or prefer the iPad over Android-powered tablets.

The Chart

Here is Michael’s chart. A larger version is on his site linked to above.

The nature of Android brand fragmentation

Please note that when I discuss Android brand fragmentation I’m not referring to the Android brand display (symbols, visuals) or to Android brand messaging. I’m referring to the Android brand experience as it’s delivered to end users. It’s hard for the brand to create customers when so many dead ends and third-party factors intervene between the brand and those whose loyalty it seeks.

A fractured user experience

To quote from Michael’s analysis of the Android data in the chart:

Other than the original G1 and MyTouch, virtually all of the millions of phones represented by this chart are still under contract today. If you thought that entitled you to some support, think again:

  • 7 of the 18 Android phones never ran a current version of the OS.
  • 12 of 18 only ran a current version of the OS for a matter of weeks or less.
  • 10 of 18 were at least two major versions behind well within their two year contract period.
  • 11 of 18 stopped getting any support updates less than a year after release.
  • 13 of 18 stopped getting any support updates before they even stopped selling the device or very shortly thereafter.
  • 15 of 18 don’t run Gingerbread, which shipped in December 2010.
  • In a few weeks, when Ice Cream Sandwich comes out, every device on here will be another major version behind.

Android users lag behind in apps, too

The fragmented nature of Android also makes Android users pay a price in app availability and app quality. Android’s myriad versions on myriad devices make it a pain for developers to create and test apps for so many different versions and handsets, especially when the device makers and the carriers insert their own software and tweaks. Apple’s iOS presents a much more consistent platform, even with Apple’s sometimes obscure curatorial logic.  (For a recent survey of Android developers see Fortune: “Android is a mess, say developers.”

The good news

In my recent post, Android: the dangers of a recessive brand, I outlined a number of measures Google could take to deliver deeper brand value in its offerings. Among these is establishing a canonical Android release that unifies Android innovation into a core platform that’s a more stable platform for app development and support. Android 4.0 may be that release, and that is good news, although it doesn’t directly help those with older Android-powered devices.

Chart image: © Michael DeGusta
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