Android Nougat's glacial upgrade pace shows why Google's Pixel needs to succeed

Less than one percent of phones are running the latest version of Android, but Google's new handset could be the first step toward changing all that.

Google has released the latest Android distribution numbers and surprise, surprise, Nougat adoption is crawling along. The latest version of Android is installed on less than one percent of all phones, while the 2-year-old Lollipop remains in the lead with more than 33 percent.

It’s a trend Android users have come to accept. During the same period last January, Marshmallow had exactly the same 0.7 percent adoption rate as Nougat does now. On the contrary, more than 75 percent of iOS users have upgraded to iOS 10 since its launch in September, a figure higher than the past three versions of Android combined.

Now, there’s no reason to think an Android release can ever reach such a lofty goal—there are just too many budget phones out there that will never see an upgrade—but it’s unfortunate to see so many flagships still dragging their feet on Nougat upgrades.

The impact on you at home: Unless you’ve bought a Google Pixel or are eyeing a new flagship in 2017, there’s a good chance you’ll be waiting a while longer for an upgrade to Nougat, if you ever see it at all. And you can likely forget about Android O. Cameras, screens, and features shouldn’t matter as much as running an outdated OS, but sadly, many phone makers don’t make upgrading enough of a priority.

Pixel Power

There weren’t too many Android phones to speak of at CES last week, but many of the ones that were released had one thing in common: Marshmallow. From the Honor 6X to the ZTE ZBlade V8 Pro, several new phones are still shipping with last year’s version of Android, and handset makers have yet to make Nougat a priority, despite it being available for development for the better part of six months. Even Samsung Galaxy S7 users are still waiting for a upgrade.

android distribution Google

Less than 1 percent of Android phones have been upgraded to Nougat.

But perhaps a sea change is coming. In November, Google released its Pixel phones, and for the first time, a “pure” Android phone was being pushed to the masses rather than Nexus niches. It’s too early to know if it will have an effect on the greater Android world—as evidenced by the distribution report—but within a year or two, Google’s strategy could begin to reverberate through the ranks of Samsung, LG, Moto, and others.

If customers begin to flock to the Pixel, it won’t just be the device’s Assistant and build quality that lure them in. The promise of regular and timely upgrades is easily one of the handset’s best qualities, and as more users are able to enjoy the latest version of Android as soon as it’s released, it could put pressure on other high-end manufacturers to do the same.

Installing the latest version of Android is like getting a new phone, and users shouldn’t have to wait until their phone is over a year old before they can enjoy it. Suffering with a stale experience has become one of the unfortunate realities of living with Android, but the Pixel might be the first step toward changing it. Who knows—maybe the January 2018 report will have Android O at a full 1 percent.

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