iOS vs Android Apple and Google are fierce competitors in the smartphone space, but there are marked differences between them. One stark difference is the speed at which operating system updates are adopted by customers.

As of September 28, one website logged all iPhone visits and found that nearly 60 percent of them were the new iOS version 6, which had been released just nine days before. On the iPad, 41.4 percent of users had upgraded to iOS 6.

By contrast, the majority of Android users still run version 2.3, also known as Gingerbread. While version 3.0, Honeycomb, was designed for tablets and was not a viable upgrade path for phones, version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was released a year ago for both phones and tablets. Even more recently, version 4.1 Jelly Bean came out early this past summer. Yet look at the stats on the percentage of devices running each operating system as of October 1, taken straight from the Android developer blog:

  • 2.3 Gingerbread: 55.8 percent

  • 3.1-3.2 Honeycomb: 1.9 percent

  • 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: 23.7 percent

  • 4.1 Jelly Bean: 1.8 percent

After three months on the market, Jelly Bean has just 1.8 percent of the market. How is that possible? The simple answer is that updating devices is really up to manufacturers and wireless carriers, not consumers or Google. Even if the base operating system is updated, drivers for the hundreds of different devices running Android aren’t baked in. And if the manufacturer has already sold you a device, where’s the incentive to update it? Maintaining brand loyalty is worth a lot, but often selling a new phone or tablet is worth more.

Compounding the problem is the plethora of devices running Android not backed by a major manufacturer. These devices sometimes don’t even have access to the Google Play store and don’t maintain a relationship with Google. They might be stuck on an older revision forever, like the 12.9 percent of devices still running version 2.2 Frozen Yogurt or 3.4 percent still running 2.1 Éclair. Without tracking down custom ROMs for their devices hacked up by the user community, these owners simply can’t upgrade.

Apple, meanwhile, only has to update its own small stable of products: a few iterations of iPhone and iPad. That’s one advantage of controlling the whole software and hardware ecosystem.

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