The picture is hazy at best for Android, but some recent findings from mobile app developer OpenSignalMaps at least make the picture more colorful.
OpenSignalMaps is an application that measures signal strength while mapping cell tower networks, aggregating signal strength data for users to determine the best connection locations. At present, they have successfully mapped 824,297 cell towers, according to their website. They are based in the US; however, their maps are available for the UK, Italy, Germany, and Spain.
Their research project focused mainly on a few metrics related to their Android phone customers and the API versions of the users. After collecting 6 months worth of device information from 681,900 clients, they were able to chart some information based on model, brand, API, and screen size.
Though Android is notorious for the fragmentation of its devices, versions, and screen sizes – creating a headache for developers and a variety of issues for users – the adaptability of the platform is its strength, according to the author.
While many devices are available on the market, Android allows for a number of choices and pricing schemes. This is especially important for developing countries, as people are able to benefit from low-cost options. The folks at OpenSignalMaps make mention of this trend, explaining how they receive most of their traffic from the US, Brazil, China, Russia, and Mexico.
In this respect, the most striking chart is pictured below, which indicates the continued prevalence of older Android versions for most users worldwide.
Though their research is only one sample, it still hints rather subtly that developing countries may begin to increase smartphone usage faster than many developed countries, at least in this particular case. Still, it has been reiterated many times now that China is in fact the world’s largest smartphone market, and this will likely continue.
At this rate, OpenSignalMaps predicts that smartphones and tablets will replace PCs as the most important devices in the developing world, given their comparatively lower cost.
As they state in their research, “Developers tend to bemoan Android fragmentation yet there’s much here to be celebrated.” For one thing, they say that it is a joy to develop for Android as “you have no idea who’ll end up using your app.”
The relative openness of the Android platform therefore allows for a number of interesting variables, and what we see is a much more nuanced market than what might be found in the iOS realm.
Of course, nuances are about as mysterious as they are frustrating.