Android Versions by The Millions

Last month I blogged about the missing market share progress graph that Google used to publish. And also provided some extra graphs based on the collected data, with much interesting facts to extract from them. I updated these data/graphs with the latest Play Store stats. But there was something significant missing and what really matters for app developers: how many actual people are on the versions, in millions.

To get this information, we need to know how many active users there are. We never had this information until Google I/O 2014 where Sundar Pichai announced that there are 1 billion users active on the Play Store at that time. The other regular piece of information I could find was the quarterly worldwide shipment of Android devices since 2010 up to April 2014. Using this data and a lifetime of 18 months for each shipped device, I managed to reconstruct the progression in millions of active devices and get to the 1 billion number we have now. The math may not be all sound, but in the end the growth is pretty linear from the beginning and the milestones from each IO keynote seem to coincide (number of activation vs active device). All these data are added to the original spreadsheet in the page "Active Users".

Given these grossly accurate data I could build the graph of each version progression in millions of users, not just in market share.

The road to 1 billion has been pretty linear. The last quarter global shipment are unknown yet. And they also take in account an explosive growth in China where the Play Store is not available.

Another interesting graph, and the real information I was looking for is how many users are currently using each API.

To compare with the original one

You can see the story is very different.
  • KitKat was the fastest growing platform in recent Android history and it's showing even more by million of users. If the growth continue like that it may reach 300 million users in the next 3/4 months. Before Android L comes out.
  • Although API v16 has been slowly declining for a while, the platform was still growing and so the number of users was still growing, the market share alone is not a good indicator. The number of users are in free fall though, despite still being the dominant API.
  • API v10 has still 140 millions of active users, these are not Chinese users.
  • There were never more Ice Cream Sandwich users than Gingerbread users. It topped 200 millions, compared to 300 millions for Gingerbread.
  • The growth of API v17 is more significant when taking in account the amount of users, it's still growing well.
  • On the other hand, API v18 is still not very meaningful in the number of users.
  • There are still 7 million users using v8.
The good news is that supporting v17 and up gives you a very good amount of users. But failing to support v10 or v15 gives 250 million more potential users to your competitors.

We can assume that in the next 3 or 4 months v10 and v15 will drop below 100 million users each. And v19 should reach 250 to 300 million users and might have more users than v17.


Android Version Distribution

A long time ago, Google used to provide a graph of the evolution of version distribution with their monthly update of the Android Dashboards. I missed this graph ever since because it was giving a good indication of where we're at and what to expect in the coming months. This is especially important when planning a new project, to know what most users will have when your product ships.

After digging in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I reconstituted all the data published by the Play Store since December 2009 up to now (June 2014). The result is this bare spreadsheet table with a link to the source I used for each line.

Reconstructed Play Store Statistics
With the data in hand, it's now easy to create the graph that Google used to publish. But as soon as you see it (see in the Google Doc spreadsheet, after the numbers), you realize it makes more sens to group the Android versions by their codename (Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jellybean and Kit-Kat). This gives this chart:

This graph looks familiar, just with more versions in it. Each major version seems to have the same life cycle and you can see that Jellybean is currently very dominant, that you get from the official monthly pie chart. What you don't get is the idea of how things are probable to move in the next 3 to 6 months. For example Gingerbread and lower currently represent 15% of the active Play Store users. When will it reach 10% ? Judging by previous Android versions, it took 4 months to get from 15% to 10%. So that would be in October of 2014.

This area view is nice, but there are other ways to represent the evolution by simply plotting the numbers in a line graph, as follows:

This graph, IMO, gives a much better idea of how things went for each version and the real importance of each version. Here are some noteworthy points:
  • Each major version has a similar life cycle. A rapid growth and then a slow "logarithmic" decline.
  • The decline starts 4 months after the next main Android version is released (4 for Froyo, 5 for Gingerbread, 4 for ICS, 4 for Jellybean)
  • Honeycomb never had much of an impact
  • Ice Cream Sandwich was never more popular than Gingerbread
  • During Google I/O 2013, the most used Android version was Gingerbread (so much for minSdkVersion=14)
  • Around April 2013 Froyo and Gingerbread lost a lot of market share at the benefit of Jellybean (harder to see in the area graph)

There's still another way to plot the data, from the time the version was introduced and counting how many months it was in use. That gives the following graph:

There's plenty of extra information that can be found from this graph.
  • Since Gingerbread, the evolution during the first months of each version is very similar
  • Older versions of Android were growing more rapidly to their peak
  • After a slow start Kit-Kat has caught up with the growth of Jellybean
  • We can project that Gingerbread will be below 10% in 4 months, ICS will be below than 10% in 2 months 

With Google I/O 2014 on the way and Android 5.0 likely to be revealed there, we can get an idea of the fate of Kit-Kat. It will be similar to the one of Ice Cream Sandwich. Of course, Jellybean is a bit cheating here, since it had 3 major versions. Here is a version of the graph, not grouped by main versions and starting at API v7.

More points can be found from this graph:
  • Obviously the older versions had less versions to share with so had more market share.
  • In the recent years API v16 is the one with the most market share by itself.
  • Kit-Kat (v19) is growing faster than all the versions since Gingerbread (except for API v18)
  • API v15 has reached its peak 15 months ago
  • API v16 has reached its peak 6 months ago
  • API v17 is growing very slowly but still growing
  • All popular recent versions reached their peak around 15 months of existence
  • Versions like v14 or v9 almost never existed

Conclusion / TL;DR: Know Android Users Through Fragmentation Graphs