Way back in October 2015, Google officially released Android Marshmallow, the latest version of its smartphone and tablet operating system. It’s packed with cool, useful features like Now on Tap, an interactive service that helps you do more with whatever is on your screen. But most Android folks can’t use it: Only 7.5 percent of devices have actually been able to upgrade to it, according to new statistics.
Those same statistics reveal that a significant portion — 32.5 percent — of Android devices are still on KitKat, a version of the operating system that came out in fall 2013. More than 24 percent of Android devices are on even older versions.
Things are different in Apple’s walled garden. The company reported last month that 84 percent of iPhones and iPads have updated to iOS 9, which came out in September 2015. Only 11 percent are on the previous version, iOS 8, and a meager 5 percent of devices run an earlier version.
The takeaway is clear: Apple can get people to upgrade their phones, but Google can’t. Why that is — and what the difference ultimately means — can help you understand a lot about the two companies and inform your smartphone purchases moving forward.
Google’s Android phones are created by a variety of companies. You can get a sleek new Samsung device with a high-end camera, or you can try the budget-friendly (and less sexy) Moto G. There are options from LG, Sony, HTC and a slew of other companies, meaning you can find a phone that matches your price range and your personality.
The iPhone is created by Apple. Period. Full stop.
When Google releases a new version of its software, it has to distribute it to manufacturers that are ultimately responsible for pushing it to your device. When it comes to a significant overhaul like Marshmallow, a phone maker like Samsung might decide to reserve it for its premium models — the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, for example — while neglecting older models like the Galaxy S4.
If you bought a phone in 2013, when KitKat was cutting edge, it’s possible that your manufacturer never gave you the opportunity to update your software. That doesn’t mean your hardware is inadequate, though: A lot of people are happy with technically “old” devices.
In recent years, Google has offered its own Nexus line of phones that can receive speedier updates directly from the tech giant. But these devices may have to be purchased outside of your wireless carrier’s stores and don’t necessarily compete with devices offered by other manufacturers in terms of screen quality, camera and so on. They’re far from a standard option, in other words.
Because Apple is the only manufacturer of the iPhone, it can roll out updates across devices simultaneously. The drawback is that those iOS upgrades can slow your phone and make you more inclined to purchase a new device. Of course, the upside is that any security problems can be patched immediately — not so with Android.
So, next time you’re shopping for a phone, remember that an Android device purchased today is less likely to receive a software upgrade than an iPhone is, but you’ll also be able to choose from a variety of manufacturers and price points.
Worth the tradeoff? That’s up to you.
By Damon Beres for huffingtonpost.com