We had a look at the first month’s adoption rate for KitKat earlier, with Google’s latest and greatest checking in at a lowly 1.1 percent of all Android devices that visit Google Play. In reality, that 1.1 percent represents a lot more devices that it might seem.
Right now, KitKat is easy to pin down. It’s on the Nexus 5, the Nexus 4, the Nexus 7, the Nexus 10, most Moto X phones, and both the Google Play Galaxy S4 and HTC One. That's obviously more models than run iOS 7 — Apple still rules when it comes to getting updates on devices in a timely manner — and it's a testament to the various hardware partners who got together to make it happen. It’s also a small drop in the bucket of over 4,200 Android devices running Android 2.2 or higher that have Google’s services. With well over 1 billion active Android devices, it’s easy to see how 1.1 percent is both a small number and a big number at the same time.
I’m telling you all this for a reason. That 1.1 percent adoption rate is just about double the rate we saw from any previous “modern” version (fancy-talk for 4.0 and higher). Ice Cream Sandwich debuted with the Galaxy Nexus in December 2011, and it’s adoption rate a month later in January 2012 was just 0.6 percent on the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S. Jelly Bean was similar, when in August 2012, a month after the Nexus 7 appeared, it debuted at 0.8 percent thanks to the Nexus 7, Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S. The difference? OEM partners like Motorola, HTC and Samsung who have updated some of their phones to the latest version.
That half-percentage point (of numbers potentially reaching 1 billion) is a big, little number.
What can we take away from all this? Well, there are a few things that come to mind, and they are all subjective. The first is that for all the railing and gnashing of teeth we hear about updates and having the latest version, people aren’t buying the available phones on every network that can run it right away. If you add a few more hundred million devices to the KitKat total, it would make for a significant increase.
Another thing is that pressure is on for the people making these phones to get theirs updated and part of the KitKat club more than it ever was. Seriously, if HTC — which seemed (rightfully or not) to all but implode at the management level in 2013 — can do it, LG and Samsung have no excuse anymore. They’re two of the biggest electronic vendors in the world. They have the manpower and resources.
I third possibility is that the Nexus 5, with its much wider release and vendor partners, has sold much better than anyone anticipated. It’s a longshot, and one we aren’t going to believe without solid numbers, but it needs mentioned.
Finally, a small (but possibly significant) number of people have shoehorned KitKat onto their devices themselves. It's easy to do on the most popular Android phone sold today — the Galaxy S4 — and there’s a good chance more people who didn’t buy a GPe S4 are running KitKat than people who did buy a GPe. These numbers we’ll never really know.
After it’s all said and done we just hope it’s a trend that will continue. Here’s hoping for a 5 percent adoption rate in January!