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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Why Is Google Still Promoting Android's Weakest Feature?

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Once more Google has released the monthly look at the market share of each version of Android. Once more the poor performance of the current version is painfully on show. And once more the arguments about how important this is will carry on. Why is Google allowing this vicious cycle to continue?

First up, the actual numbers. The latest version of Android was announced last summer at Google’s I/O conference, and released in November 2015. The current market share of 2.3 percent is even smaller than Lollipop’s share at the same point in its production cycle twelve months previously, and it is utterly dwarfed by the adoption rate that Apple can command for the updates to iOS 9.
Let’s not talk about the well-known issues that Google has in rolling out updates this month. The log-jam of waiting for manufacturers and networks to clear each over-the-air update is not going to change unless there are fundamental changes in how Android works at the base level – and it’s unlikely that manufacturers and carriers will want to give up the control the current structure offers.

Google is aware of this, and has spent the last year moving as much functionality as it can away from the difficult to update firmware, and into the individual applications. These can be updated whenever needed through the Google Play Store app, and of course the Google Play Store itself is an app which can be updated.

With the emphasis on Android’s capabilities moving away from the base version to higher up the stack, is there any need to keep publishing the market share numbers so prominently? The majority of Google’s efforts to keep Android up-to-date and bug-free are ignored each month in favour of a number that is going to be used to beat up the platform.

Google can’t simply stop publishing the market share numbers – to go cold turkey on giving out these market share numbers would lead to far more questions about Google’s ulterior motives. Creating the impression that it is hiding Android’s market share numbers would be a weaker position than the current monthly run of ‘Android is bad’ articles. Google needs to work out how to wean the media away from market share to something that guarantees them rewarding coverage. As a first step, moving to a quarterly release of numbers would diminish the power of these numbers, and offer Google more opportunities to promote positive stories around the uptake of Android.

Until that process starts, it’s far too easy to point out that Marshmallow is being adopted at a slower rate than Lollipop, and Android’s update rate is dwarfed by Apple’s success. There may be technical reasons, but the impression given to the public is one that puts Android on the defensive when compared to the competition. Google only has itself to blame for this state of affairs. It’s time the Mountain View team did something about to address the PR issue.

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