FOTA Updates

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FOTA Updates

After an extensive search of research organizations, Android device manufacturers, and media reports, no data could be found regarding the rate of firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updates among US Android users. However, the overall rate of firmware updates is very low among Android users (for example, only 10.4% of all Android devices were updated to the newest Android version in the nine months following its release), meaning that even if the rate of FOTA updates is high among those who actually update their firmware, this would still represent a small proportion of total Android users. Below is information regarding this phenomenon, followed by an explanation of our research methodology.

Introduction: Firmware updates on Android versus IOS

  • Firmware over-the-air (FOTA) is a wireless update of a device's firmware, as opposed to traditional firmware updates done while connected to a computer.
  • Google, the developer and distributor of the Android operating system (OS), "periodically pushes upgrades to the firmware on an Android phone by sending the updated information through a cellular or Wi-Fi connection."
  • In contrast with IOS, the OS developed by Apple which functions exclusively on Apple products, Android runs on a variety of devices from numerous manufacturers.
  • Because of this, Android firmware updates "are rolled out in waves by device and carrier, so updates aren't available to everyone at once," unlike IOS firmware updates.

Low adoption rates of new Android firmware updates

  • This staggered nature of Android updates across manufacturers is a contributing factor to the extremely low adoption rate of Android firmware updates. According to data released by Google in May 2019, the latest Android firmware update, Android Pie, was installed by only 10.4% of all Android devices nine months after its launch.
  • This actually represents an improvement over the firmware's previous version, Oreo, which was installed on only 5.7% of devices nine months after its August 2017 launch.
  • Meanwhile, as of May 2019, 28.3% of Android devices were still using Oreo (either 8.0 or 8.1), despite the release of Pie nine months earlier. 19.2% of Android devices — nearly a fifth of all devices — are still using a version of Android Nougat, the first version of which was launched in August 2016.
  • A substantial percentage of Android users are still using even older firmware versions, with 16.9% using a version of Android Lollipop (first launched in 2014).

Relative and absolute Android firmware update adoption figures

  • These statistics show that the percentage of Android users that update their device's firmware at all is relatively low. Compare these figures to Apple's recent firmware update statistics: Three and a half months after the launch of IOS 12, the OS's latest version, a full 75% of all Apple devices had installed the update.
  • The gulf between IOS and Apple is so significant that a majority of Apple devices had been updated to IOS 12 within just 23 days of its release, a feat that Android's current version, released almost a year ago, has still yet to achieve.
  • Approximately 124.4 million Americans have Android smartphones in 2019 (this data has also been provided in an attached document to ensure accessibility).
  • The firmware adoption statistics above apply to all Android devices globally, not just those in the US, but assuming the rates are roughly the same among US Android users, this would mean that only about (124.4*10.4%)=12.9 million American Android users actually updated to the most recent firmware version in the nine months after its release.

Firmware updates across manufacturers

  • The extremely low adoption rate of new Android firmware may have something to do with the behavior of consumers (e.g. putting off updates), but it can also be explained by the failure of manufacturers to provide firmware updates for its devices.
  • According to Computerworld's JR Raphael, who produces an annual Android Update Report Card, every major Android device manufacturer aside from Google itself exhibited severe shortcomings in making Android Pie available to consumers. In other words, while some Android users may be choosing not to update their devices, many simply don't have a choice, because their device's manufacturer is failing to provide the update on their device or communicate effectively about the new update.
  • Android device manufacturer OnePlus, for example, took 142 days before the newest Android firmware update was available on its previous-generation flagship.
  • While poor compared to Google, which immediately supplied the newest update on its previous-generation flagship, this was relatively impressive compared to Samsung and Motorola (Lenovo), both taking over six months to get the latest update onto their previous-generation flagships.
  • Thus, the extremely slow provision of firmware updates by major Android device manufacturers means that often consumers simply cannot update their firmware at all, be it through FOTA or a computer connection.

Your research team employed the following strategy:

To find statistics regarding firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updates among Android users in the US, we first conducted a search of organizations and academic reports that might present such statistics. This included research organizations such as Pew Research, major consultancy firms such as Deloitte, and academic databases such as Google Scholar. While our primary focus was on US android users performing FOTA updates, we also searched for relevant proxies or similar data that might be of some use, such as data regarding global android users performing FOTA updates, data regarding any over-the-air updates among Android users (not just firmware updates), or data regarding FOTA updates across mobile users of any operating system (OS). Still, no relevant data was found through this approach.

As a second approach, we conducted a search of individual Android device manufacturers, including Google itself (which is both an Android device manufacturer and the developer/distributor of the Android OS). Google does provide some data regarding the distribution of firmware versions, among other characteristics, across Android devices, but does not include the proportion of firmware updates completed over-the-air versus connected to a computer. Similarly, a search of other major Android device manufacturers, such as Samsung, Motorola, and others, did not produce any relevant data in this regard.

As a third approach, we conducted an extensive press search, hoping to find Android FOTA update statistics among US users reported in media articles, or to find leads to relevant studies or reports that had been missed while conducting the previous two approaches. This search primarily focused on technology-related outlets, such as TechCrunch, Computerworld, and TechRadar, among others, but also included general-interest outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Unfortunately, this approach did not reveal any relevant statistics regarding FOTA updates among US Android users, nor any close proxies or similar data.

After failing to find any data regarding FOTA updates among US Android users through these three approaches, we have concluded that this data is likely unavailable in the public domain. It is possible that companies such as Google possess this data but simply have not released it publicly, and/or that research organizations have not conducted the requisite research to make such data public. In order to provide some potentially useful findings, we broke down the low adoption rate of new Android firmware above. While this data does not show the rate of FOTA updates, it does show that the overall rate of firmware updates is very low among Android users, suggesting that even if a large proportion of Android users who update their firmware do employ FOTA, this would still represent a relatively small number of Android users.