Everyone knows this famous quote: There are lies, damn lies and statistics. (It’s interesting, however, that nobody is sure who actually said it.)
The reformatting of how Google reports how the Android operating system is used is a good example of the truth of the quote. One of the big problems the open source operating system faces is that there are so many versions spread over so many different types of devices that features and applications don’t run consistently. Consequently, the more devices using one version of the OS, the better it is for Android and Google.
Facebook Home is a great example of how big a deal this is. AppleInsider reports that the Facebook initiative won’t run on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or lower. The story says that Gingerbread alone represents about 40 percent of the installed base of Android users, though that percentage presumably was determined using the older method of computation.
Keep that in mind when considering a report posted last week by CNET’s Roger Cheng. Cheng wrote that Google has changed the way in which it determines how many people are using a particular version of the operating system. The new system counts users based on whether they enter Google Play. The old system counted a user as soon as their device was recognized by Google’s servers.
Under the new system, about 25 percent of Android users in the two weeks ending April 2 employed Jelly Bean (Android 4.1 and 4.2). That’s a jump of 16 percent from the previous report, which used the old approach.
Google addressed the issue in a note at its Developers’ Blog, which also offers a rundown of the percentage held by each of the seven versions of the OS – presumably computed using the new system:
Beginning in April, 2013, these charts are now built using data collected from each device when the user visits the Google Play Store. Previously, the data was collected when the device simply checked-in to Google servers. We believe the new data more accurately reflects those users who are most engaged in the Android and Google Play ecosystem.
Cheng suggests the goal is to provide more useful information to developers. It also is possible that Google sees the change as a way to make its fragmentation problem seem a bit less serious. Whichever the reason is – or if they both are true – fragmentation remains a serious challenge for Google.
Indeed, the last sentence of the note suggests that heavy Android users, those more likely to download apps and interact with Google Play, are being given priority. There is nothing wrong with that. They are more promising users. At least one observer — Stefan Constantinescu at Android Beat – thinks the change is a good idea.
In the bigger picture, the change in how the numbers are tabulated shouldn’t allow Google to minimize the extent of the challenge or falsely suggest that progress is being made. Such a result is possible, however. Independent observers should keep their eyes on the fragmentation issue – and how Google reports it.