Apple: Androids are much less likely to be running an up-to-date OS than iPhones and iPads

Filed Under: Apple, Featured, Google, iOS, Vulnerability

Apple CEO Tim Cook, and his senior executives, took to the stage at WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) in San Francisco earlier today.

As well as announcing upgrades to some of the firm's laptop hardware, and discussing new features coming in Mountain Lion and iOS 6, they also found it impossible to resist taking the opportunity to crow about Apple's success at getting users to run the latest version of its mobile operating system.

iOS version versus Android version

Scott Forstall, Apple's senior vice president of iOS software, told the developers assembled at the conference that over 80% of iPhone and iPad users are running iOS 5. That compares to a paltry 7% of Android customers who are up-to-date and running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) on their smartphones and tablets.

According to the stats that Forstall presented, most Android devices are still running version 2.3 (Gingerbread) of the operating system.

I bought an Android smartphone a few years ago, but ultimately the thing which turned me off the experience was the sheer difficulty in keeping its operating system up-to-date. With Android, you need Google, your cellphone provider and your manufacturer to all agree to push out a new OS update.

The reason for the complexity is that the version of Android for your particular smartphone may have to be tweaked to work properly on your specific device. That requires work by the hardware manufacturer, and then the cellphone provider has to also agree to roll out the update.

With an iPhone or iPad, all you're waiting for is Apple to publish an update or security fix. They have total control over the hardware, and can deliver the update directly to you via the internet.

iOS 5.1.1 update download

If a vulnerability is discovered, I want my mobile phone to be patched as quickly as possible - not feel that I have to rely upon multiple third parties or go completely off-road and root the device to install someone else's custom-tailored ROM.

I'm not saying that Apple always gets it right, or that there isn't room for improvement in the firm's responsiveness and openness to security issues (see their tardiness in relation to patching Java security holes earlier this year, for instance), but the numbers don't lie.

If Apple's stats are true, and they seem believable to me, iPhones and iPads are more likely to be running the latest shipping version of their OS than competing Android devices.

And that's not just going to help them in terms of bells-and-whistles and new features, but also with security fixes.

Do you agree that it's harder to keep Android devices up-to-date with the latest version of the operating system? Or is the problem exaggerated? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below

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22 Responses to Apple: Androids are much less likely to be running an up-to-date OS than iPhones and iPads

  1. Ronan · 800 days ago

    Getting android updates for my phone is impossible unless my network want me to have it. I have resorted to all sorts of primitive tomfoolery to get updates. In the past changing the date/time settings would dupe the network into delivering an update OTA. That gaping hole has been plugged so now I am wholly reliant on the network delivering the update. Device vendor is very quick to publish updates. Pity the network is so slow at publishing patches.

  2. Zack · 800 days ago

    Newer versions of Android are developed around newer and different hardware, which is why it is hard to keep them all updated, but I still think it's a problem, I still use a device on 1.6 >.>

  3. Alan · 800 days ago

    I agree it certainly is harder to keep certain Android devices up-to-date, but this is only a problem because of all the garbage manufacturers insist on dumping on them (HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, etc...). If users were able to just download the latest compatible version of Android direct from Google then the only issue would be older handsets not able to run the newer versions. Maybe an officially supported 'custom' ROM installer (without invalidating any warranty).

    This is the main reason I bought a Nexus handset.

  4. Clinton · 800 days ago

    I'm waiting for my Sony Arc to update to ics but Rogers is taking more than a week now to roll it out. My phone can easily update built-in but some of my friends phone don't so they require the manufacturer Computer programs to update and not everyone is willing to install software. Another is that not all phones can be updated to ics 4, so the end of the line phones would have been counted. Having the android updated to be bug free is the hard part because every update so far only are major software changes, if a built-in app like my contacts crash when trying to merge facebook contacts, I won't see an update for that from current 2.3.4 till my ICS 4 update. As of now minor patches to the system software is hard to keep updated. As a result of this, many third party apps have gained users with their replacements and kept us updated, how many of us tried a replacement for contacts, keyboard, sms, launcher, or locker(main user system apps)? Many of us can keep up to date without needing to wait months for three layers of companies to release operating systems. In all, most android users don't even know if they can even update their phones because it isn't marketed like Apple.

  5. Jon Fukumoto · 800 days ago

    Yes, it's true. The numbers don't lie. When I first got my iPhone 3GS, it had iOS 5.0 pre-installed. I simple went to Software Update and updated to the latest version, which was 5.01 at the time. I've since updated to iOS 5.1.1, and I'm waiting for the next major update. The numbers Apple Inc. displayed are true, that only 7% of Android smartphones are running 4.0 ICS, while most of the other Android Smartphones are running an outdated version, hence the fragmentation issue. It's true that the OS has to be tweaked to run on a particular handset, and that it's up to the carrier to push the update. However, not all Android handsets will be able to update to the latest version because of hardware differences. My iPhone 3GS, being a low-end iPhone, is still being supported, and I'm one of those 80% running the latest version of iOS, and I will update to iOS 6 when it becomes available. Apple is smart by controlling the hardware and pushing the updates out themselves instead of having to rely on the carriers. This ensures the iOS device stays up to date.

  6. JonG · 800 days ago

    I agree completely with this article, ICS has been out for how long now and I am STILL waiting for it on my phone, Galaxy S2 with Sprint. Updates for Android OS are painfully slow at best IF you ever get one.

  7. Karel Kerezman · 800 days ago

    I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and would love it if Samsung would get on with the job of getting ICS out to this device. I don't want to have to root the silly thing!

    • Fail · 799 days ago

      Asking "why do you need the latest OS?" on a security site is like asking "why do you need fresh tires?" on a race car site... -_-

  8. Tim · 800 days ago

    If you buy a device running an Android version that is stable and secure why upgrade to some Android version that is designed for different devices? Android 3 was designed for tablets and not phones, Android 4 merged version 2 and 3 for both devices.

    Apple is primarily a hardware company and supply software for their specific devices. Android is an open Linux based platform. There is little comparison as different hardware vendors supply devices that run Android. You need to compare a hardware company against Apple, not some open source OS.

    Giving hardware vendors, distributors and consumers a choice of what version to run is not a disability - it's a freedom.

    If you've got a working and secure smartphone or tablet that suits your needs why should anyone care who the vendor is or what version of the software its running?

    ..only the fanboy's do! :)

  9. Benedict Herold · 800 days ago

    Updates on Android sucks! You've to wait endless period to get a minor upgrade.

  10. Ocean Midge · 800 days ago

    Comparing Apples (no pun intended) with Helicopters. Apple has all of 9 (is it 9?) devices to worry about, all of which are built on similar architectures.
    There are absolute screeds of Android devices out there now, all with different capabilities and hardware sets. Add in the fact that a huge number of these are under the control of telcos that don't really seem to give a damn about updating the OS and it makes it pretty impractical to patch them... sadly.

  11. Mak D'Uniq · 799 days ago

    next month google will release jellybean

  12. What about the downsides? Apple can remote-kill devices and you don't get any choice about when to update.

    Some updates are feature updates not security ones. How many of each class of device need security updates? That would be a better measure.

  13. Pete · 799 days ago

    iOS only has to run on Apple products, Android runs on a plethora of products built by a number of manufacturers.

  14. cdg864 · 799 days ago

    The real question I expected this blog to answer was whether or not this lack of updates made Android less secure compared to iOS. Natch that issue wasn't even addressed.

  15. Detlev Rackow · 799 days ago

    I formulate MDM policy for my employer (local government) and lecture on the topic for other institutions, and the update availability for Android is a key element in my discussions on Android security.

    There is not only a slow update cycle for Android devices, but most devices will only get one or two updates at all over their lifetime to deliver new features. Google releases new versions with bugfixes and security fixes about once every 2-3 months. These versions are only available on the Nexus devices, other devices will not see these security updates at all.

  16. gene · 799 days ago

    Absolutely agree. You have to jump through incredible hoops to get an upgraded operating system. Samsung's process is insane. I won't use apps that demand access to every part of my phone including my calls and messages and that are completely irrelevant to the functionality of the application. So I've got almost none and a smart telephone that really isn't very smart at all. They will force me to Apple whether I want it or not once this contract is done. Not very smart of Google either...

  17. zx2zx · 799 days ago

    How many PCs are still running Win95, XP, and Vista?

    • Max · 799 days ago

      And how many times you see these machines are filled with malware ? If you want to troll please go to youtube or something.

  18. Sum Guy · 799 days ago

    I am very much against apple because of its anti competition crusade. But in the case of the phones androids os is not very update friendly.

    Both are very easy to hack, but is apple more easy to update. Androids devices are cheaper for similar specs.

    You are not safe with either unless you are in the know. Even so, that can't save you from everything. 1000's of new malware is released every day, some by large corporations to track your activities for marketing purposes, and the rest is those with real criminal intent.

    The key is pay attention, or you will end up hacked sooner rather than later.

  19. Anonymous · 797 days ago

    I think that if google pushed out the newest version of the android os to all android devices it would slow some of the older android devices down.

  20. Wilford Fatuous · 257 days ago

    Forced obsolescence of hardware, controlled by the manufacturer.

    Ask someone running an Apple device two releases old what happens when they have to apply a major new iOS update, and the answer is that the device becomes unusably slow and often unstable. I've known handfuls of people who told me this happened to them, and it happened to my spouse and I as well.

    And the older Apple devices can NOT be updated and are probably just not included in their graphs but the older Android devices are.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.