Why Are There So Many Android Versions?

Q. Why are there so many different variations of Android compared to iOS? Which version is most common?

A. Since the iPhone arrived in 2007, Apple has kept a tight rein on its mobile operating system and only allows it to work on its own hardware — making it proprietary or “closed” software. Although enthusiasts have been able to hack around and tinker with iOS over the years, Apple frowns upon doing so.

Android, the operating system Google has made for mobile devices since 2008, is largely open-source software. As such, developers and manufacturers have taken the basic system software and adapted it to their own devices — which makes for many more variations of Android in circulation.

This means Samsung can make a version of Android (called the “Samsung Experience”) that works well with its Galaxy S hardware and Amazon can spin off a Fire OS variation for its Kindle tablets. The unadulterated version that Google puts on its own Pixel hardware is usually called “stock” or “pure” Android because it lacks the add-ons and modifications made by others for their own specific gadgets.

Google generally stops offering free Android system updates to devices after a few years, but the company does make updates to its popular apps available for older system versions.CreditThe New York Times

Google typically releases one major update to the Android system each year. Android 8.0, code-named “Oreo,” is the latest mainstream edition and Android “P” (nickname yet to be determined) is expected later this year. However, Google does not guarantee that its own hardware will get the newest versions of the system after about two years from the purchase date, though it makes security updates available longer. Older devices can fall behind (but still work) and wireless carriers and hardware makers may roll out updates on their own schedule — or not at all.

Google’s own developer’s dashboard has a chart showing all the versions of Android still in active use, based on information from the Google Play store. Last year’s Android 8.0 has slightly more than 4 percent of users while Android 6.0, code-named Marshmallow and released in 2015, is currently the most popular version, with a 26 percent share. Android 7.0 (nicknamed Nougat and unveiled in 2016) is running on about 23 percent of devices, and the five-year-old Android 4.4 (KitKat) is on 10 percent.

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