As Gingerbread Bakes, 73.8% of Android Phones Run 2.1+

Nearly three of every four handsets hitting the Android Market are now running the most modern versions of Google’s (s goog) mobile operating system, just as rumors begin swirling around the next release of Android. The current picture, provided by Google’s own dashboard service, differs greatly from just six months ago, when only one in four Android phones were running version 2.0 or better. This adoption of the Eclair and Froyo versions of Android, combined with Google’s efforts to offer core apps through its Market, is helping to reduce fragmentation issues.

Indeed, I saw the handwriting on the wall in May as Google began to build apps that were supported on multiple Android versions and then provide them outside the operating system. Software such as Goggles, Gesture Search and Navigation originally launched on Android 2.0 or better devices, but quickly appeared on older Android 1.6 handsets. Based on the distribution of Android versions at that time (shown below), Google effectively doubled the potential user base of such apps by offering them phones running an older version of Android.

The adoption of newer Android versions comes at a time when the next iteration is likely to appear. Developers should see the SDK of Gingerbread as early as next week, says AndroidPolice. When the SDK becomes available, developers will know about, and be able to take advantage of, new Android features and APIs. Once that information hits the wild, we’ll all know what Gingerbread will bring to the dessert table, although reports earlier this summer may have tipped Google’s hand. Unlike the many new features brought by Froyo, Gingerbread is anticipated to focus more on improved design that enhances the user experience for smartphones. Industry sources tell me that Gingerbread won’t likely be the version optimized for Android tablets, however; that effort will be realized with Honeycomb, a version after Gingerbread.

[inline-pro-content align=”left”]As Google continues to bake Gingerbread, however, many smartphone owners are still left longing to taste Froyo, or Android 2.2. As Google’s own historical data shows, handsets started to ramp up with Froyo in August, but it has seen relatively  little uptake since then. Handset makers gained access to Android 2.2 back in May, but have either struggled to incorporate it as an update to existing phones or have waited to offer it with new handsets due to product lifecycles. Samsung’s Galaxy S class of devices that debuted in June, for example, were supposed to see a Froyo update last month. The update only arrived on time for T-Mobile UK customers, however, as Samsung has pushed back a widespread update until the end of October.

For the remainder of the year then, handset makers such as HTC, Motorola (s mot) and Samsung are likely to keep working on integrating their custom shell interfaces with Froyo and rolling out updates over time. By the beginning of 2011, I expect Android 2.2 to be running on more Android phones than any prior versions, as a result. Even if the Gingerbread SDK does show itself next week, manufacturers will have to take time, possibly months, to put Google’s new platform on handsets, so the march towards 2.2 will continue.

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