Fragmentation. Few words have such an immediate and severe impact on Android enthusiasts. Meanwhile, iOS fans are completely unfazed by the word. Fragmentation has been something of an issue for Android since shortly after the platform first debut. The fact of the matter is the issue is inherent to Android’s distribution model. Google releases software to the world and then it’s up to vendors and carriers to push it out to users. And since vendors tweak Android with their own enhancements and carriers have unique needs as well, releasing software updates takes time. Apple, meanwhile, releases its software updates directly to end users, cutting out the middleman and ensuring that every user out there with a compatible device has access to new software builds from day one. But is iOS impacted by fragmentation as well?
Fortune’s Philip Elmer-Dewitt published a pair of charts on Friday that help illustrate how Android fragmentation compares to iOS fragmentation.
The first shows Android version distribution as of November (it doesn’t include KitKat, which is currently found on just 1.1% of devices according to Google):
And here is Apple’s iOS version distribution as of November, according to analytics firm Chitika:
Each software distribution model clearly has benefits and downsides. While Apple’s direct method means all customers with compatible have access to the latest and greatest features right away, Google’s free and open model has resulted in a platform with far greater reach.
It also results in much more choice for consumers — Apple offers three phones and four tablet models while there are hundreds of Android devices currently on the market. It also means developers have much more head scratching to do, however, whereas a single iOS app will work on more than 90% of iOS devices in use.
In the end, it’s impossible to say one model is better than the other. Each has its merits and each is working quite well for its platform owner. When it comes to the specific issue of fragmentation, however, there is no question that Android is far more affected than iOS.