The iOS 8 Adoption Rate Report

February 4th, 2015

There’s a perception, one I believe to be mistaken, that the adoption rate for the latest version of Apple’s mobile OS is seriously lagging. But aside from your definition of “lagging” or “poor,” there are other issues to consider.

First is the claim that iOS 8 was hopelessly flawed, and thus people were less inclined to upgrade. Or maybe, on the surface, it didn’t seem so much different from iOS 7, so why bother? It didn’t help that the original versions of the upgrade used far too much space on an iOS device with 16GB of storage or less. Requiring several gigabytes when a device is filled with apps and photos and such may have been necessary from a programming standpoint, but it wasn’t terribly helpful to customers.

So things have improved, and the iOS 8.1.3 release notes specifically cited reduced space for performing an upgrade (but not how much). Even more important, you are not forced to do an in-device upgrade, even though that’s been the promise in iOS for a while now. Instead, you can always run it the old fashioned way, and perform the upgrade with iTunes on your Mac or PC. Maybe you don’t want to tether your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to another device for a short while to upgrade the OS, but it may work where other solutions fail.

Another deterrent to upgrade is the possibility of reduced performance. So if you have the oldest supported devices, including the iPhone 4s and iPad 2, well it won’t be quite as snappy. Apps will launch a bit slower, but we’re talking of fractions of a second for the most part, except for a somewhat longer boot process. But turning off the zooming and motion effects in the Accessibility settings will make your gear seem noticeably faster. Besides, do you really care about the special effects?

The other issue, more important, is whether there are persistent bugs that will make apps crash or otherwise misbehave, or whether you’ll have problems establishing and sustaining a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection. When it comes to networking, these are supposed to be among the more significant lingering iOS 8 bugs. The last fix, for Wi-Fi, came in iOS 8.1, and there’s an 8.2 under development that may hit in March or April. If the latter, perhaps with the official Apple Watch launch, but it’s not certain what else will get fixed.

After all is said and done, then, how well is the iOS 8 adoption rate faring? The answers are easy to come by, but you need some perspective.

So according to the data at Apple’s developer site, 72% of all iOS devices currently active are using iOS 8. Some 25% remain with iOS 7. A third-party survey, from Mixpanel Trends, put the adoption rate at 74%, but both numbers may go up and down slightly from day to day even if the overall trend is up. The reason that Mixpanel’s rate seems to always run higher than Apple’s is that the latter is depending on App Store access. It may not reflect the actual total user rate, but a few points one way or the other is a reasonable margin for error.

At the same time, Mixpanel’s chart on the iOS 7 adoption rate at this time last year was roughly 85%. But is 11 percent lower truly an indictment on iOS 8, or are other factors at play?

Most of the media analysis I see blames iOS 8 bugs and the higher storage needs for performing the upgrade. The former would appear to be true, but don’t forget that iOS 7’s arrival was quite ragged too. Apple had to make a few refinements to the light and thin interface over several releases, and there were a few of the usual networking and battery life issues to confront. Performance on the oldest supported hardware, which then included the iPhone 4, was poor until a few releases made it a little snappier.

Doesn’t this all sound familiar?

Apple is still stung by that dreaded iOS 8.0.1 upgrade, even though it only impacted about 40,000 devices and was restricted to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The problems included the inability to make a cell phone call and an inactive Touch ID. These, as you recall, were outfitted with iOS 8 when they shipped, so you didn’t have a choice other than to avoid the upgrade. Besides, Apple pulled 8.0.1 within an hour, and released a fixed version the very next day. They also posted online instructions to restore affected devices so they’d be working again.

Unfortunately the media reports on this problem often avoided mentioning how quickly the update was withdrawn, and what Apple did to make things right. Remember that other companies have suffered from faulty upgrades, and Microsoft is one of the worst offenders. Imagine upgrading Windows only to confront a boot looping problem, meaning it keeps rebooting. The first release of Android 5 Lollipop was quickly withdrawn due to serious performance issues, and it took a couple of weeks for a new version to arrive.

Now some comparisons: The latest adoption rate stats for Android 5 Lollipop at Mixpanel Trends totaled 3.54% after three months. Windows 8.1 adoption was in the high single digits according to a few surveys I checked. I’ll grant either might be off a few points, but consider how well Apple is doing by comparison.

There’s one more issue. iOS 8 abandons tens of millions of additional iOS devices compared to iOS 7. As sales of new gear grow, the adoption rate will climb too. It may well be that, by September, when iOS 9 is due, some 85-90% of iOS users will have upgraded, in the ballpark of iOS 7. Apple should certainly work as hard as possible to squash the remaining bugs, but when it comes to the adoption rate, Apple need make no apologies.

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