updated 09:30 pm EST, Thu December 5, 2013
Three months in, almost all users on iOS 7 or iOS 6
A new report posted by Apple itself on its iOS developer portal says that, less than three months after its debut, iOS 7 is now on 74 percent of all the company's mobile devices -- an astonishing adoption rate unrivalled in the industry. Users still on iOS 6 make up about 22 percent of the base, meaning 96 percent of iOS users are running OS versions no more than a year old. By comparison, only around half of Android users are on a 4.x version (first released in mid-2012), with only 1.1 percent on the latest iteration.
The difference is crucially important to both app developers and customers: for the latter, being able to run the latest operating system version means more features and better security, increasing the value and safety of the device. For developers, not having to maintain multiple versions that run on a wide variety of hardware makes both development and support much easier -- part of the reason why iOS developers make an average of five times the revenue of Android-only app makers.
Apple's iOS 7 runs on hardware that is up to five years old, though some features are not supported on older hardware. For example, voice assistant Siri is not compatible with the only-recently-discontinued iPhone 4, though it does work with 2011's iPhone 4S. Figures from market analyst MixPanel actually report an even higher penetration than Apple itself, with the company saying that nearly 80 percent of its monitored users are on iOS 7, with 17 percent on iOS 6 and just three percent using anything older than that.
Android, meanwhile, is widely split among different operating systems. Though a slim majority are on the fairly-recent "Jelly Bean" iterations (Android 4.1-4.3), security and other improvements available in "KitKat" (4.4) are not yet available for most models, and many devices will never receive the update due to policies dictated by the reseller or carrier.
Nearly a quarter of all Android devices are still on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), released in 2010 and considered very insecure. Nearly 20 percent are on 2011's Ice Cream Sandwich, and neither those devices or the Gingerbread ones can be further upgraded in software.
Having the bulk of the user base on the most recent versions of iOS is also a big advantage to Apple. It can sell all new devices with the latest version already included, make updates directly available to users (without having to wait for carriers or other agents to approve, modify or add their own "skin" to the experience), and forge ahead with improvements at a rapid pace, knowing the base will adopt them quickly following public release.
Android users who cannot "root" their devices are mostly dependent on carriers to provide them with upgrades, even though they have little incentive to do so in favor of likely hardware upgrades. Even devices sold directly by Google are usually no longer eligible for upgrades beyond the two-year mark, giving the devices a short cycle of useful lifespan.
Analytics from other independent companies suggest that iPad users are somewhat slower than iPhone users to upgrade to the latest version, potentially because of the longer average lifespan of tablets. Most North American cell phone contracts allow for free or heavily-subsidized upgrades to newer models in as early as 18 months to two years, meaning many users "buy" new smartphone hardware about that often. Tablets such as the iPad, which are mostly not on cellular contracts, are generally used for longer periods before being replaced with upgraded models -- in part because most tablets are unsubsidized, and thus purchased at full price.