Why the Latest Version of Apple iOS Is More Important Than Google Android

The smartphone operating system is increasingly becoming a two-horse race. Apple (NAS: AAPL) iOS and Google (NAS: GOOG) Android grow their collective share each and every quarter and now power four out of every five smartphones sold in the world today.

With Android's share towering at 56.1% while iOS lags with 22.9%, you might think that major version updates to Android are more important that for its rival from Cupertino. Both companies unveiled the next major versions of each respective operating system, iOS 6 and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, last month, but iOS 6 is much more significant than Android 4.1.

I'm not even referring to new features or functionalities being included in the newest versions. Rather, it all comes back to what's frequently cited as Android's biggest weakness: fragmentation. There are many layers of this, one of which involves slow rollouts and software update delays within the Android army as each hardware manufacturer and carrier has to sign off.

It's a constant guessing game for Android users when -- or even if -- they'll get the newest versions of the operating system whenever they get updated. At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, iOS chief Scott Forstall said 80% of iOS users are now running iOS 5, the latest publicly released version. As of the beginning of July, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was installed on just 11%, according to Google's Android developer site.

Both versions were released in October of last year, so they share an approximate starting point for adoption. This is why updates to iOS are more meaningful, because iOS users will actually get to use all the features in the first place. Only a tenth of Android users even enjoy features in Ice Cream Sandwich eight months after release, so who knows when they'd get a crack at those in Jelly Bean unless they go out and pick up a new Nexus 7 tablet.

In fact, 64% of users still use Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which was released in in 2010. It's worth noting that Google measures version distribution based on what Android devices access its Google Play content store. That means that Amazon.com's (NAS: AMZN) Kindle Fire, which runs a heavily modified, or forked, version of Gingerbread, isn't even included in that figure because it points to Amazon's own Appstore instead of to Google Play. Since the Kindle Fire is technically an Android device, that means that the percentage of users on Ice Cream Sandwich is even slimmer than what's reported.

iOS 6 is more meaningful simply because it will reach more of its user base quickly.

The iPhone's growth has been mind-boggling. The crazy thing is, Apple still has more room to run. Learn exactly what Apple's opportunity is, as well as the impediments to getting there, in our brand-new premium Apple research service.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorEvan Niuowns shares of Amazon.com and Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Google.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Google, Amazon.com, and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.