What Ails Android Lollipop?

By | July 7, 2015

Android 5.0 Lollipop was unveiled at last year’s Google I/O event, and it was generally expected that the version would become fairly popular. With its much touted rival, iOS 8, running into multiple hiccups, many had even predicted that the adoption rates of Lollipop would trump that of the new iteration of Apple’s mobile platform. Nine months on, that scenario has certainly not materialized – and Android Lollipop is struggling with an adoption rate of around 12% (KitKat and JellyBean continue to be the leaders in the Android ecosystem). It is pretty clear that, in spite of mostly favorable reviews, not many have upgraded to Android 5.0. Let’s deliberate on some probable reasons for this here:

 

  1. Fragmented rollout – The confusion over which devices would be getting Lollipop (and when) definitely had an adverse effect over its adoption figures. The Nexus devices got the update first (Nexus 4, 5, 7 and 10), followed by the Moto G and Moto E phones. In between, the update was stalled and re-launched by Google. Samsung recently announced that the popular Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy S3 handsets will not be getting the Lollipop update. For Sony Xperia Z handsets, Android 5.0 started rolling out only a month back. Many Android users with phones of other brands still don’t have an idea about when, if at all, they will get the Lollipop update. The presence of too many vendors, and the stagewise rollout, have hampered the version’s usage figures. After all, you can’t upgrade to a platform if it is not available!
  2. Where is Nexus 6? – Google’s usually reliable Nexus program has, unexpectedly, not been running smoothly of late. Nexus 6 (which, along with Nexus 9, was the new flagship device accompanying the launch of Android Lollipop) was released in mid-October. Strangely, general users as well as professional Android app developers reported that the device was almost perpetually ‘out of stock.’ The specs of Nexus 6 looked great on paper, and it might have given Lollipop a much-needed thrust. Sadly, the device remained unavailable for most people. Even if they wanted a new phone with Lollipop, they could not have it.
  3. Very few users get the plain-vanilla Android experience – Nexus users get it, Motorola users come close – but that’s about it. Unlike the centralised control that Apple has over its iOS platform (in fact, it gets some flak for the lack of customization options), every Android vendor tweaks around the source codes of updates, and bloats the platform with their own built-in apps, games and other software. This is a problem that every Android update faces, and is not an exclusive issue with Lollipop. For instance, after a month of its release, Android KitKat had a measly 1.1% adoption rate (that, however, is way higher than the 0.1% share that Lollipop managed after the same time). This robs people of the motivation of upgrading to new versions.
  4. Uncertainty over carrier services – The poor adoption rate of Android 5.0 can also be partly attributed to the unforeseen carrier-related problems. According to the official Android policy standard, it can take 14 days or more for an update to become available on a Nexus device after its release – and while Nexus 9 shipped with Lollipop pre-installed in the devices, the other Nexus handsets received the update 10-12 days later. More interestingly, the LG G3 phones received the update before most Nexus handsets. This air of uncertainty was created due to the unavailability of the update to the different carriers. Unless Google makes things more systematic soon, the upcoming Android 6.0 update (Android M) might have a similarly rocky rollout.
  5. No extra motivation to upgrade to Lollipop – According to survey reports in Android app development forums and communities, about one out every two Android phones are currently running on the JellyBean platform. KitKAt, which also had a slow start, has recovered well – and is present on roughly 1 out of 3 devices. There has been no single USP of Lollipop (Material Design is not reason enough) that would motivate most Android-users to go for the update. The general perception has been that Android 5.0 is a decent enough update, but it does not offer much in the way of extra features over JellyBean or KitKAt.
  6. Initial bugs and performance issues – Well, every major platform upgrade has bugs (you need not look beyond iOS 8.0 and the terrible iOS 8.0.1 update for that). However, the initial performance-related complaints and user-problems were not addressed soon enough – with the first set of patches coming with the Android 5.0.2 update. Things like the absence of ‘Silent Mode’ (replaced in a later update) also created a negative buzz about the Lollipop iteration. Not surprisingly, it was painfully slow to come out of the blocks.
  7. Budget smartphones are mostly shipping with KitKat – Mobile marketers and app developers agree that the availability of devices at both ends of the price spectrum gives Android a key advantage over its arch-rival, Apple iOS. The Lollipop update, however, has not benefited from this, since nearly all budget smartphones are currently shipping with Android KitKat (with some giving users the option to upgrade to Lollipop). Initially, it was expected that Lollipop would gradually take the place of JellyBean, in terms of adoption. Instead, KitKat is being the big winner as people are moving on to new devices, mostly at the expense of Gingerbread.
  8. No high-end flagship phone to fall back upon – Even iPhone app development experts agree that, the predecessors of iOS 8.3 were, at best, mediocre (and at worst, bug-ridden). However, their adoption rates remained high – simply because iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (on which iOS 8 debuted) enjoyed huge demand among buyers from the word go. Android 5.0 Lollipop has had no such support, with Nexus 6 not being readily available, and Motorola also not managing to upgrade its most popular phones quickly enough. Perhaps Samsung could have given Lollipop the muscle to fight it out with iOS 8 – but the South Korean company is way down in the pecking order of getting the update. Maybe, the Google-Samsung feud has been a reason behind this.
  9. Can statistics lie? – Generally not, but there is an outside chance that Android Lollipop is more popular than it is made out to be by mobile software and app developers. All that we know is the adoption rate, a percentage figure, is lousy – but nothing is known about the absolute number of devices on which Android 5.0 has been installed. It can well be that Lollipop is present on a fairly large number of handsets, and that figure is not being reflected due to the remarkably fast rate at which new Android smartphones are being launched every quarter.
  10. Choice of markets initially – We have already pointed out how LG G3 got Android Lollipop before some of the Nexus devices. The company – which, incidentally, is a direct rival of Samsung – tested the update in Poland (a relatively small market), instead of going for a rollout in one of the wider markets. As a result, the initial adoption rate remained low – simply because the user base who could move to the new OS was not large enough to start with.
  11. Poor support for older devices – Another Android policy that has hurt the adoption of Lollipop is the stipulation that Nexus or Google Play Edition handsets which do not receive the update within eighteen months of the latter’s release, will not receive it at all. This makes it virtually impossible for users with older Android phones to move on to the Android 5.0 Lollipop platform. Apple has handled this far more sensibly with iOS 8, with the update being available to iPhone 4S as well (although there are performance issues). The total count of devices that support Lollipop is significantly lower than those supporting KitKat or JellyBean. Yet another problem.
  12. So, is Android Lollipop a flop? – Most experts from the field of Android development feel that it would be a folly to label the Android 5.0 update as a flop. After all, it had several glitches to start with – which were gradually ironed out. As a result, the adoption rate of Lollipop has somewhat picked up in the last couple of months or so – and there is every chance that this momentum would continue. Android KitKat had sorry adoption rates to start off with too (albeit higher than Lollipop), but it is now close to becoming the most-used Android version. It might well happen that, as Android M is launched and runs into similar problems, Android Lollipop will gain in popularity.

 

A recurring theme regarding Android 5.0 has been its unsystematic, uncertain rollout plan – to vendors as well as carriers. Even the Nexus line of phones – normally the quickest to get new updates – has faltered, compounding the problem. Unavailability of the Lollipop update on low and mid-range phones has not helped things either. It would be mighty interesting to see how Google tries to make sure that the initial adoption figures of Android M (scheduled to release in 2015 Q3) is high enough…or at least, higher than that of Lollipop!