Thoughts on mobile development - Symbian, Blackberry, Android, J2ME and iPhone

Android 2.1 makes big gains over the last month

By Aaron Davidson, in , posted: 19-May-2010 13:14

Google updated the stats in its Device Dashboard a couple of days ago and the results make for encouraging reading.  As noted in my last blog Android 1.5 penetration surged unexpectedly between January and April 2010.  That trend has been reversed this month however with Android 2.1 taking just under 10% share from both 1.5 and 1.6 to become the most dominant version of Android OS with 37.2% penetration.  Developers still cannot afford to ignore 1.5 and 1.6 however as collectively they represent over 60% of devices visiting the Android Marketplace.

The trend in Android OS distribution can be seen in the following Google pie charts for January, April and May 2010 respectively:

Android distribution Jan 2010 Android distribution April 2010 Platform versions May 2010

As noted last time, the odd feature is the surge in Android 1.5 usage in the April 2010 pie chart, that trend has now been reversed with both the 1.5 and 1.6 slices shrinking in size and the 2.1 slice increasing in size.

Here's an update of my own rough "changing fortunes" bar graph from last time charting distribution changes January - May 2010.  Some people suggested a line graph may better show over trends so there's one of these also.  Now you have the full set, pie graphs from Google and bar and line graphs from me.

The Cyan bars in the bar graph represent where we are today:

Changing platform penetration May 2010 Platform trends May 2010

Now onto the good stuff.  In addition to providing a breakdown of OS distribution Google is now also providing a breakdown of the screen sizes and densities that it is seeing visiting the marketplace:

Screen type distribution May 2010

This is particularly useful information.  Android 1.5 supports only normal sized screens (320x480) with medium pixel density (160 dpi).  Android 1.6 and later on the other hand supports 9 different combinations of screen size and pixel density.  Our advice has typically been that developers should target Android 1.6 to future proof an application for the introduction of various screen sizes going forward.  That advice still stands but what the Google data shows us is that there is very little immediate cost to ignoring this advice and simply targeting Android 1.5 using the normal screen size/medium density combination because this combination is used by nearly two thirds of all Android devices accessing the marketplace today and even though Android 1.5 does not provide the tools to support other screen size/density combinations, since the only other combination worth supporting is also a normal screen size (hence the same aspect ratio) those devices will simply upscale the medium density image for the high density screen.  Sure it won't look as crisp as a high density image, but it will work.

So provided you're not using any Android 1.6 or later specific features your Android 1.5 app will work and look good on 99% of Android devices accessing the market today.  Interesting huh!

Android OS penetration going backwards

By Aaron Davidson, in , posted: 5-May-2010 13:04

Back in February I talked about the Android Dashboard which shows the distribution of versions of the Android OS on devices visiting the Android Marketplace.  Very handy for deciding which versions of the Android OS to target.  The stats at that time told a fairly straight forward story, the majority of users using Android 1.6, some marooned on Android 1.5 and a growing number on the latest and greatest Android 2.0/2.01.

Google recently released updated stats which give a rather more confused picture when contrasted with the earlier statistics:

Device dashboard 4 Jan 2010      Platform versions April 2010

The first pie graph is for January 2010, the second for April 2010.  Rather incredibly Android 1.5 penetration has surged.  There are a huge number of Android devices sold daily so the total size of the pie has increased over the four months separating the two graphs.  This means that the increase in Android 1.5 usage cannot be explained by users of the HTC Hero and similar devices being marooned on Android 1.5 but instead must mean vendors continue to ship large numbers of Android 1.5 devices.  In the PC world that would be akin to PC vendors shipping large numbers of Win 2K machines today .

Relative Android 1.6 usage has shrunk consistent with existing 1.6 devices having been upgraded or more likely, simply less 1.6 based devices shipping.  Not surprisingly the relative share of 2.0/2.01 devices has all but evaporated as those devices have now almost all been updated to Android 2.1.

Here's my own rough bar graph of the changing fortunes of the various Android platform versions between January and April 2010:

Changing platform penetration

The purple bars represent January and yellow April.  You can clearly see the unexpected Android 1.5 shenanigans.

This makes life interesting for Android developers such as ourselves.  Our advice this year has been to upgrade apps to Android 1.6 and target new Android apps at Android 1.6 to take advantage of the screen size and other capabilities introduced in that version.  It was solid advice when Android 1.5 looked to be on the way out.  Despite these new stats I still think its the best approach but the arguments for targeting Android 1.6 in the very immediate term aren't as clear cut as they were just a couple of months ago!

Skype on Android … sort of

By Aaron Davidson, in , posted: 26-Mar-2010 17:46

We've used Skype in the office since it was in beta.  It has been fantastic.  Its a great way of firing files between workstations, chatting without disturbing other people, keeping track of what someone told me about something and naturally, a cost effective way of communicating with people remotely.

Skype on mobile makes so much sense to me.  Why SMS when you can IM?  If you're in wi-fi range why waste your call minutes when you can call for free?

So I've always been frustrated by Skype's inexplicable approach to mobile.  For years Skype had a Win mobile client but no Symbian client.  That's a pain since I've more often than not had Symbian phones.  Skype explained that the user experience wasn't good enough on Symbian which never stacked up as you could just use Fring on Symbian which then used Skype.  It made even less sense when in 2006 (yes that's right, four years ago) Skype announced it did actually have a Symbian client after all but no you couldn't use it unless you were on 3 (the mobile network).

Here's a pic circa 2006 of Skype running quite happily on an ancient Nokia 6680 using Symbian S60 2nd Edn:

skype on 6680

Recently Skype announced that Symbian is now supported (great, I can throw Fring away at last) and that they've killed the Windows mobile version (bummer, tough break guys).  Skype have also announced that they have an Android version, but no you can't use it unless you're with Verizon (again with this, really?!).  There used to be a Skype lite Android version but that has been canned and so all non-Verizon Android users are out in the cold.

skype on Android

Unbelievably the new "Skype for Android users on Verizon's network" cannot use wi-fi.  The word inexplicable does not even come close.  How hard can it be to roll a version that just works on a the leading mobile platforms?

Not that hard apparently as Fring hasn't had any problem doing it.  Performance a problem?  Hire some smarter engineers from the guys for whom it obviously was not a problem or just reduce the functionality.  Diminished functionality is better than no functionality.  If a user doesn't like the app then they don't have to use it after all.

Skype I love you but you inexplicably keep frustrating my attempts to spend more money with you!  Perhaps your mobile strategy is perfectly rational and I just missed the press release?

Android Device Dashboard

By Aaron Davidson, in , posted: 17-Feb-2010 16:26

With the blizzard of mobile announcements being released this week in the midst of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona I thought I'd jump on the band wagon and blog a bit more frequently.  Rather than talk about what everyone else is talking about though I'm going back to the future to talk about something that I really like about Android - the ease with which you can get useful information about devices running it.

Back in December Raphaël Moll announced the Android Device Dashboard on the Android Developers Blog.  The Device Dashboard is awesome because it shows you the % of devices using each release of Android OS.  Naturally this is particularly useful when deciding which versions of the Android OS your application should support and whether or not its worth taking advantage of a certain feature etc.

The Device Dashboard draws its information from devices connecting to the Android Marketplace in the preceding two weeks.  As at the time of writing the Device Dashboard was showing results for the two weeks preceding 4 January 2010:

Android Device dashboard

As the graph shows you, around 2/3'rds of devices are now using Android 1.6+ which makes 1.6 an ideal target OS level, particularly since it was the first version Android OS to support multiple screen sizes and that it is likely that all devices, even the G1, will eventually be updated to this version of the Android OS.

The graph doesn't give you any specific percentages however so the Device Dashboard also provides you a table which I replicate here:

Android Platform    Percent of Devices

Android 1.1            0.3%
Android 1.5           31.0%
Android 1.6           47.6%
Android 2.0             0.7%
Android 2.0.1        20.4%

How great would it be to have this sort of information available for the other platforms?

ald's profile

Aaron Davidson
New Zealand

Co-founder and CEO of SimWorks - New Zealands leading developer of mobile applications.

SimWorks Anti-Virus protects over 1.5 million mobile phones around the world everyday.

SimWorks phone backup enables mobile operators to protect their subscribers mobile phone contacts and provide their subscribers with unique and compelling new ARPU boosting services.

If you need a mobile app developed give us a call.

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