Which Mobile Platform Versions to Support in 2017

Happy New Year from a chilly Rectangular HQ here in the Kent Downs.

The start of a new year seems as good a time as any to revisit our advice to our clients on mobile platform versions. Back in August we recommended iOS 8 and Android 4.1 as the oldest operating system versions that should typically be supported by new native app projects. Since then both Apple and Google have released major new versions – iOS 10 and Android 7 (Nougat) – and the percentage of devices running older software has declined further.

As always, picking a target version is a trade-off between the size of your potential user base (the more versions you support, the more people can use your app) and being able to take advantage of new features and design improvements that are either only available in the newer versions or require extra development effort to support on older devices.

For iOS the picture is clear. Apple is aggressive in driving the adoption of new versions of its mobile OS to the extent that it makes it difficult for developers to support anything older than the current major version and its immediate predecessor. iOS 10 was released in September and by late November was already installed on 63% of devices that accessed the App Store. Most of the other devices were running iOS 9, with only 8% on earlier versions. With 92% of users on iOS 9 or later and Apple having withdrawn support for iOS 8 development, all new apps should target iOS 9 and above.

The Android situation is different. Google does not have the same control over devices and so cannot drive adoption of new versions in the same way. This is mitigated to some extent by its efforts to support continued development for older Android versions. Whereas Apple went from 0% to 63% adoption of iOS 10 in little over two months, Google has managed to get only 0.4% of users onto Android 7.x in four months. To match the 92% penetration you’d get from iOS 9 (released September 2015) and above, you’d have to support Android versions back to 4.2 (released November 2012).

In August we recommend Android 4.1 as the minimum version to target. Today we’re updating that to 4.2 but in truth it makes little difference and apps developed for 4.2 may still work on 4.1 (an extra 4.5% of users) if there are no technical obstacles. The real progress will come when projects can drop support for all 4.x versions of Android and target only 5.0 and later but with only 60.3% of devices currently running 5.x, 6.x or 7.x that will not happen this year.

If you’re planning on building an app for your business in 2017 and want to discuss your options with no obligations, please get in touch.