Operating system user bases

Related: two previous posts on the patterns in Android adoption rates (December 2013, March 2014), a post contrasting iOS and Android adoption patterns, and a post from last month on iOS 9 adoption.

Both Apple and Google have just updated their mobile OS user stats, while Microsoft shared a new number for Windows 10 adoption at its event this week, giving us a rare opportunity to make some comparisons between these major operating systems at a single point in time. We now have the following stats straight from the sources:

  • The stats provided by both Apple and Google on their developer sites with regard to the user distribution across their mobile operating systems (Android and iOS)
  • The 110 million Windows 10 number provided by Microsoft this week
  • The 1.4 billion total active Android user base number provided by Google at its event last week
  • Total Windows users of around 1.5 billion, as reported by Microsoft several times at recent events.

In addition, there are various third party sources for additional data, including NetMarketShare and its estimate of the usage of other versions of Windows. Lastly, I have estimated that there are roughly 500 million iPhones in use now, and around 775 million iOS devices in use in total (including iPads and iPod Touches).

If we take all these data sets together, it’s possible to arrive at a reasonably good estimate for the actual global user bases of major operating system versions at the present time. The chart below shows the result of this analysis:User bases all iOSThere are several things worth noting here:

  • Each company has one entry in the top three, with Microsoft first, Google second, and Apple third.
  • However, only one of these entrants is the latest version of that company’s operating system (iOS 9), while the other two are the third most recent versions (Windows 7 and Android KitKat).
  • Google has three of the top six operating systems, none of which is its latest operating system (Marshmallow, released this past week). Even its second most recent version (Lollipop), now available for a year, is only the third most adopted version after KitKat and Jelly Bean.
  • Both iOS 9 and iOS 8 and the three most used versions of Android beat out every version of Windows but Windows 7.
  • The most recent versions of the three companies’ major operating systems are used by a little over 400 million (iOS 9), 110 million (Windows 10), and a negligible number (Android Marshmallow) respectively.
  • The second most recent versions are used by around 330 million (Android Lollipop), around 250 million (iOS 8), and around 200 million (Windows 8) respectively.

There are lots more data points to tease out here, but to my mind it’s a striking illustration of the differences in the size and adoption rates of these three major operating systems.

Two additional thoughts

Just for interest, I’m including a couple of additional thoughts below.

First off, here’s the same chart, but with iOS reduced to just the iPhone base. The order changes a fair amount, but iOS 8 and iOS 9 still make a good showing:

User bases based on iPhone onlyLastly, I wanted to revisit my post from a couple of weeks ago about the initial adoption of iOS 9, especially as it relates to Mixpanel’s data. In that post, I showed how Mixpanel’s iOS adoption data tends to be pretty close to Apple’s own data except for the month or so after a new version of iOS ships, when it tends to skew way lower than Apple’s own data. Now that we’re a few weeks on from the initial launch, and Apple has released the second set of iOS adoption data since the launch, I wanted to revisit that pattern. Interestingly, the very same pattern is playing out again – despite the initial significant discrepancy, Mixpanel’s data is now once again very close to Apple’s own:Mixpanel iOS data October 2015

  • obarthelemy

    Same remark as always about “OS” meaning different things in different ecosystems:
    – in iOS most everything is linked to OS version: mail client, browser, Pay, Music, TouchID, eye candy…
    – in Android, most stuff isn’t to linked to OS version but to the PlayStore (mail, browser) or Google Services (Pay, Wear, Music) instead; and 3rd-party apps/tools can rejuvenate an aging underlying OS by replacing OS elements (lock screen, home screen, notifications, dialer, messaging, keyboard, maps…), apps, tools, looks…
    – in Windows, some versions introduce major architecture overhauls, others are window (sorry) dressing. Typically, Windows users don’t upgrade, whether home users trying to avoid trouble, or corps with long validation cycles. Windows 10 is free for most everyone, doesn’t require hardware upgrades, and yet it’s the last of this top-ten, far behind 7. that says a lot about perceived necessity and value.

    Which creates a strange disconnect between iOS users and commenters to which OS versions are key to new designs, apps, and features, and Android/Windows users for which not so much.

    In the end, straight up OS version comparisons are a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison.

    Specifically in Android, the version lag is taken care of by the whole Android dev toolchain: the Android devkit even asks for a specific OS version to target, and bundles libraries for backward/forward compatibility. I’ve yet to come across an app that won’t work on 4.0, except Pay and Wear that require 4.4. OS-dependent security issues do remain, sadly

    • I’ve yet to come across an app that won’t work on 4.0

      That’s actually a bit of a chicken and egg problem.

      Do Android developers target 4.0 because the environment allows them to take advantage of the latest features even on old versions, or do they intentionally refrain from adopting these features because so few people use the latest OS version (and hence a small target audience)? Or aren’t there many new features that developers can take advantage of in new Android versions anyway?

      I haven’t looked into the Android APIs much, but I’m suspecting that the later may be what’s happening.

      • Taco Monster

        One option you don’t mention, but which is actually one of the more prevalent models: Adding support for latest OS while maintaining backward compatibility back to an older version, say 4.1. Not all features will be available in older OSs of course. Google makes a conscious effort to make this possible, which is forced on them, given the situation with updates (or the lack of them): Each app has a minSDK and a targetSDK, the first controls the *minimum* APIs needed for the app, while the latter controls the full set of APIs that the app can take advantage of. In effect, you don’t have to hold back features for the new OS to maintain compatibility with older ones. By the way, even 10% of devices on the latest OS is a *lot* of users, and, more pertinently is presumably your most lucrative audience as a developer on Android.

        • Yes, it’s pretty clear from just taking a casual glance at the Android APIs that Google is trying hard to provide paths that developers can exploit to maintain compatibility. I also understand the 10% argument.

          The thing that I don’t understand is how Google’s efforts and your 10% logic work out in the real world. This depends on the market value of implementing Android’s latest features relative to the effort.

          I’d like to learn more about this. I do strongly suspect though that this uncertainty is causing developers to be conservative.