The last figure we heard from Google on official Android activations was a jaw-dropping 190 million, but that didn’t make any distinction between late-model, high-end smartphones and the lower-end phones that have been filling out carriers’ line ups lately. According to analyst firm In-Stat, the number of low-end Android phones (under $150 USD unlocked) alone will jump to 339 million over the next four years, spurred on by Android’s flexibility and other mobile operating systems’ lack of competition in the space. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing for everyone.
As we all know, manufacturers and carriers have no real reason to support their phones with new software once a customer buys it. While the current Android ecosystem puts upgrade pressure on manufacturers and carriers for high-end phones, many low-end phones see slow upgrades or none at all. Most users of cheap smartphones aren’t all that interested in software upgrades, if they care about the operating system at all. In-Stat says that makes the expanding low-end market a minefield of outdated software, dragging the rest of the Android ecosystem down.
As Android makes leaps and bounds in its software with Ice Cream Sandwich and later versions, a larger percentage of outdated phones that don’t use or can’t handle the newer OS could be a real headache for app developers and carriers. The popular wisdom is that more people with access to smartphones is a good thing, especially in emerging markets, and there’s nothing in this report to dispel that. But as Android grows to service consumers and hardware at every level of the economic spectrum, software makers and infrastructure companies will have to balance making the latest and greatest available with maintaining support for older and less-expensive handsets.
Check out our hands-on coverage of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich:
Ice Cream Sandwich Hands-on