Google tweaks counting method; usage jumps for its Jelly Bean OS

Google's Android developer site now reports a jump of almost nine percentage points for Jelly Bean devices

What a difference a month makes. Less than 30 days ago, Google reported there were finally more devices in active use running Android 4.0 and up than devices running the Android 2.3 operating system (code named Gingerbread).

The vast majority of those Android 4.0 users, however, were using Ice Cream Sandwich and not the various flavors of the newer Jelly Bean (Android 4.1 and 4.2).

Now, Google's Android developer site reports a jump of almost nine percentage points for Jelly Bean devices (counting both versions 4.1 and 4.2) from 16.5 percent of all Android users in early March to 25 percent in early April. According to Google's numbers, the majority of Jelly Bean devices run version 4.1 and not 4.2, which was released in February.

That's a massive jump in just a few weeks. Unless thousands of users suddenly upgraded their devices or went out and purchased new phones , something is rotten in the city of Mountain View.

How Google counted

To see that big jump in Android 4.1 and 4.1 usage, Google modified how it was counting Android users. Previously, Google simply counted the number of unique devices that pinged the Google Play Store, whether as an automatic device setting or a user-initiated visit.

Now, however, Google only counts Android users based on user-initiated visits to the Play Store. "We believe the new data more accurately reflects those users who are most engaged in the Android and Google Play ecosystem," Google said on its developer page when announcing the change.

Google's change in how it counts Android devices sounds like a better metric for developers since it focuses on those who are actively engaged with the Play Store and most likely to download apps. But it's not so great if you're trying to get an idea of how many active Android devices are out there, regardless of whether they use the Play Store or not.

Users with older devices, for example, may give up on downloading apps from the Play Store altogether. This could be for a variety of reasons, such as full device memory or poor performance of newer apps on older devices.

Then there's the various Android users in markets such as China, who may not use the Play Store at all. And a smaller stable of users may be using carrier-specific app stores or alternatives to the Play Store such as Getjar.

Other considerations

Google's new metric may also skew towards early adopters who always have the latest and greatest version of Android and would, by definition, be some of the most active Google Play users.

Google's numbers also don't necessarily reflect an increase in actual Jelly Bean users. For all we know, Google's new statistics significantly reduced the number of devices counted overall.

So the Jelly Bean device percentage may appear to be growing, even though it is simply a larger part of a smaller pool of users.

That being said, the most substantial change for Google's numbers appears to be the jump in Android 4.1 users. And other Android platforms, such as Donut (remember that one?) and Eclair, hardly budged.

Gingerbread took a dip from about 44 percent of Android usage to just under 40 percent. When you combine the numbers for users of Android 4.0 and 4.2, Android 4.0 now dwarfs Gingerbread under Google's new counting regime.

All told, Android 4.0 and up accounts for 54.3 of the total Android base, compared to less than 40 percent for Gingerbread. In March, the numbers were far closer at 45.1 percent for Android 4.0 and up versus 44.2 percent for Gingerbread.

What about Honeycomb?

Intriguingly, users of Honeycomb, the early Android OS for tablets, practically disappeared under the new counting method. Honeycomb dropped from 1.2 percent of Android users in March to a measly 0.2 percent as of early April.

Honeycomb was Google's first tablet-specific version of Android and was more of a stop-gap solution to help manufacturers compete against the iPad. It wasn't until Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and arguably 4.1 Jelly Bean, that Android became a viable platform for tablets.

This decline for Honeycomb, combined with Google's new counting method, suggests that while Honeycomb devices are out there, they are not seeing much use.

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