Android is one of the world’s most unique operating system for a number of different reasons. But there are also some not-so-good things that make Android unique, and OS fragmentation is one of those things.
OS fragmentation refers to that fact that the majority of Android users aren’t using the latest version of Android. In fact, they’re not even close to using Android 4.0+ because they’re stuck with Android 2.3.
Today, Android users are spread across a wide range of operating system versions due to the failure of phone manufacturers and carriers to release Android updates in a timely fashion – or at all.
To novice Android users and even experienced ones, understanding Android versions can seem complex. But today, we’re going to give you a basic explanation of the most popular Android versions available today, which should help you avoid confusion in the app market and when you’re reading cool Android how to guides online:
Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, and Froyo
I’ve lumped these four early operating systems together because they were at the earliest stages of Android’s development and had very few supported devices. Android showed potential at this point, but it was nowhere near where Google’s developers wanted the operating system to be.
The first Android device released to the public, running Cupcake, was the HTC Dream, which came out in 2008. Although Android users still run some of these versions, you’d be hard-pressed to find any device on the market running these versions – and you probably shouldn’t buy that device no matter what price it’s at.
Gingerbread (Android 2.3)
Gingerbread was Android’s most popular version number for years. Released in 2010, Android 2.3 Gingerbread brought Android significantly closer to the Android we know and love today.
Notable Gingerbread improvements included support for front and back facing cameras, a simpler UI, faster OS speed, better keyboard, support for Near Field Communications (NFC), and enhanced battery life.
The first phone to run Android 2.3 Gingerbread was the Samsung Nexus S, which was an early version of the world’s most popular Android smartphone, the Galaxy S3 and S4. Today, most of the popular Gingerbread phones have been upgraded to Android 4.1, so most users can make the switch.
Honeycomb (Android 3.0)
When looking at Android smartphone version numbers, it’s easy to get confused. There’s a large clump of users around Android 2.3 and there’s another large clump around Android 4.0+. But where did Android 3.0 go?
Released in February 2011, Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) was an Android version designed solely for tablet users. Google optimized the OS to work on popular tablets like the Motorola Xoom and Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
The tablet-specific version of Android included features like a new UI (which Google called ‘Holo’) as well as a better keyboard, enhanced multitasking, and the ability to resize widgets and open multiple browser tabs.
Today, most popular Honeycomb tablets can be upgraded to Android 4.0 or higher.
Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)
Enter the modern age of Android. In October 2011, Google released Ice Cream Sandwich, which aimed to unify the tablet and smartphone versions of Android while vastly improving the OS’s speed and stability.
And that’s exactly what Ice Cream Sandwich did. Ice Cream Sandwich’s release coincided with a massive jump in Android sales and fuelled the growth of popular smartphones like the Galaxy S3, HTC One X, and Sony Xperia T.
Ice Cream Sandwich introduced smartphone users to the Holo UI and improved the camera app, added face unlock, and overall optimized the UI and speed of the OS.
Jelly Bean (Android 4.1)
In July of 2012, Google released an incremental upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, calling it Jelly Bean. Jelly Bean’s most notable feature was Project Butter, which was designed to make the operating system smooth as butter.
This upgrade made Android a much smoother and lag free operating system. The notification screen was vastly expanded and the upgrade also added Google Now, which is Google’s answer to Siri.
Jelly Bean (Android 4.2)
Just a few months after releasing Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google released Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. This upgrade was fairly minor (which is why it carries the same name as its predecessor), and it brought features like Photo Sphere (which allows you to take 360 degree panorama photos) as well as some minor UI improvements. And uh, that was just about it. Today, most devices do not run Android 4.2, with the exception of the Nexus devices and recent releases like the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Key Lime Pie (Android 5.0?)
Many suspect the next version of Android will be named Key Lime Pie. Google was expected to reveal Key Lime Pie at its I/O conference early in 2013, although that never happened. Since it’s been a while between operating system upgrades, it’s likely that Key Lime Pie will be a fairly major upgrade. And I can’t wait what Google has in store for us.
Which Android version should you choose?
-If you want to take advantage of free phone offers with contracts from major carriers, then buy a phone with Android 4.0 or 4.1
-If you want to pick up a super cheap used phone that is primitive compared to modern Androids, then buy an Android with Gingerbread (2.3) or lower
-If you want the latest Android UI, a cool camera photo sphere, and the most modern phones available today, then buy a phone with Android 4.2
-If you want to wait to see what Google has planned for Android next, then wait for Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie.
Really, all phones running Android 4.0 or higher look basically the same. You’ll notice minor performance improvements between Android 4.0 and 4.1, but other than that, there isn’t a huge difference.
Do you notice a pattern?
Take a look at the above Android versions again. Notice a trend? Obviously, all the Android versions are named after delicious desserts. But they also go in perfect alphabetical order – C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J and the upcoming Key Lime Pie, K.
Where did A and B go on the alphabetical order chart? Maybe they stood for Android Beta and then the developers just ran with that idea? Who knows? In any case, the alphabetical order system gives us a hint at what the next version of Android could be named after Key Lime Pie:
Post your guess below!