The Cascade of iOS and Android Software Updates

The majority of the U.S. population uses a smartphone as their main device for communication and the vast majority of those smart phones are running Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android.  These two main operating systems receive frequent updates to correct software bugs and fix security vulnerabilities but receive a major update approximately once per year.  While the majority of all smartphones run on one of these two operating systems the adoption rates could not be more different.  Apple’s iOS 7 was released in September of 2013 and has surpassed 87% adoption as of April 8th 2014 compared to Google’s Android Kit Kat 4.4 which was released in October of 2013 and claims 5.3%.  The version of Android that is installed on most user’s devices is 4.1, Jelly Bean, and was released in September of 2012. Considering this huge divide among smartphone operating system adoption rates it is clear that the probability of a user to adopt to the latest software is very high for Apple’s devices and much lower for devices running Google’s Android software.  Of course there are many factors that contribute to the much lower adoption rate on Android devices, the major one being that Google does not actually make any of the devices themselves, instead opting to release the software for device manufacturers to use and manipulate as they choose.  This simple ideology throws a major obstacle into the ability to update to the newest software and in many cases prevents someone from updating to the newest version.  iOS7 is compatible with the iPhone 4/4S, 5/5C/5S and was available to all of those users on the same day where Android must complete many different compatibility tests before it can be made officially available to devices running Android.  Some Android phones are still sold today running outdated software with no potential to ever get an update to the newest version where all Apple devices sold today are running iOS7 out of the box.

Software adoption is, in a way, very similar to information cascades and the clusters that prevent adoption from spreading across the entire population.  When it comes to Apple smartphones, the only devices that are excluded are the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G/3GS so the software is able to spread to the vast majority of all users and devices.  In the case of Google’s Android, many more clusters exist within the total network that prevent the software from spreading at the high rate of iOS.  As more devices become compatible the updates will be pushed out to qualified Android devices and those clusters that previously existed as an obstacle to the continuing cascade will join the main network.  The only problem is that the adoption rate for Android is so slow that by the time Google announces Android 4.5 most devices will (hopefully) just receiving the update to 4.4 and thus the fragmentation is guaranteed to continue.  Apple, on the other hand, will continue to see massive and quick adoption of it’s next iteration of software, likely named iOS8, and will continue to attract smartphone purchasers and application developers alike. 

Attached is an article briefly explaining the difference in adoption rates on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS with graphic presentations that highlight the polar opposite that these two main operating systems represent.