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Is the iPhone fragmented? iOS adoption measured against Android

The iPhone’s unprecedented success stems from the combination of multiple factors, not the least of which are Apple’s industry-leading design prowess and its ability to make software that appeals to enthusiasts and mass-market users alike. The culture and hype surrounding Apple products doesn’t hurt either, of course. Where the overall experience is concerned, Apple wisely created a scenario that gives it control of both hardware and software, removing carriers from the equation to an extent and ensuring the end user enjoys the experience Apple envisions without any substantial impediments. Despite this ideal scenario, some industry watchers maintain that fragmentation is unavoidable to some degree, and this issue exists in the iOS ecosystem just as it does with Android.

In the case of Google’s mobile operating system, a number of factors cause fragmentation. For one thing, Android is open source and key partners such as Samsung, HTC and LG modify the OS in a number of ways. While proprietary OS enhancements do not necessarily have a direct impact where fragmentation is concerned, they do slow the development process at the vendor level, thus increasing the amount of time users must wait to receive updates.

Industrial and graphic designer Chris Sauve recently published an in-depth analysis of Android fragmentation, and he determined that while Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was unveiled in late 2011 and Android 5.0 Jelly Bean is coming later this year, 2012 is actually the year of Gingerbread, which was unveiled 15 months ago in late 2010.

Conversations surrounding whether or not iOS is fragmented date back several years and persist to this day, and Sauve revisited the issue of fragmentation in March. This time, however, he looked at the issue as it may or may not apply to Apple’s mobile platform.

Using data points obtained from 50 different mobile software developers, Sauve analyzed iOS version adoption over the past 21 months since iOS 3.0 was introduced.

He also looked at iOS adoption relative to each version’s launch to see how quickly each build was adopted by end users.

Finally, this data was plotted against Sauve’s earlier Android adoption data.

Complaints of fragmentation in Apple’s mobile ecosystem were most prominent in early- and mid-2010, and iOS 3.0’s adoption rate shows us why. Since then, however, the adoption rate of Apple’s major new OS builds has been remarkable.

“iOS 5 captured approximately 75% of all iOS users in the same amount of time it took Gingerbread to get 4% of all Android users,” Sauve wrote in his analysis on pxldot. “Even more astounding is that 15 weeks after launch iOS 4 was at 70% and iOS 5 was at 60% while Ice Cream Sandwich got to just 1% share at the same age. If there were any question as to whether iOS had a less fragmented ecosystem than Android, the past two charts provide a fairly definitive answer.”

Sauve continued, “iOS devices have, on average, reached 10% version share 300 times faster than Android versions, 30% share 19 times faster, and 50% share 7 times faster.”

The adoption rate of future major iOS builds will likely be even more impressive thanks to the introduction of an over-the-air update mechanism Apple added in iOS 5. With iCloud backing up data, on-device notifications when updates become available, and the requirement of connecting to a PC to update no longer a factor, the major barriers standing between mass-market users and software updates have been eliminated.

This ensures that users have access to the most current iOS features as quickly as possible, and it also means developers don’t need to worry about old iOS versions as much while they shift focus to new builds.

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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