iOS 10. Image source: Apple.
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One of Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) strengths in mobile has always been its ability to expeditiously usher users along to the newest version of iOS. Since the company handles software updates directly and bypasses carrier restrictions, Apple is able to get people onboard much faster than Android. This translates into tangible benefits such as streamlined support of fewer versions, while a larger proportion of consumers get to enjoy the latest features, including security enhancements.
Apple has now updated its developer site to show that 54% of devices are now running iOS 10. Of the remainder, 38% are still on iOS 9, and the remaining 8% are running some earlier version of the operating system.
Android is still playing catch up
In contrast, the latest Android stats (last updated on Sept. 5) show that only 19% of users are running Marshmallow, which is a year old. Ignoring the fact that it bears a terrible name, the latest version, Nougat, is on so few devices that it doesn't register quite yet; the first third-party device (i.e., non-Nexus) to ship with Nougat didn't get the version until Sept. 6, the day after the most recent Android update. KitKat, released in 2013, is still on over a quarter of all Android devices.
This version fragmentation has long been a strategic weakness for the Android camp, but unfortunately for consumers there's really no way around it. The Android army is simply too large, with too many participants (including original equipment manufacturers and carriers) to enable efficient software deployments across the entire platform.
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iOS 10's big play: Messaging as a platform
For Apple, iOS 10 represents Cupertino's latest effort to entrench users. This time, Apple is using a new tool from its tool belt: messaging. Messages is by far the most dramatically reimagined part of iOS 10, and Apple wants to make a platform out of it. This is just beginning, but it's not hard to imagine Apple creating an ecosystem of messaging-specific apps and services that can integrate into Messages, increasing overall switching costs and stickiness. Many messaging services in Asia have successfully pioneered this approach, adding everything from customizations to payment options to their respective platforms.
Meanwhile, Alphabet's Google continues to meander with its countless attempts to create a viable messaging platform. The search giant has no less than six different chat apps (Allo, Duo, Hangouts, Spaces, Messenger, and Voice) that each serve different purposes on different computing platforms, with some overlap. That's just uncalled for, although in fairness, a few of these are on the way out either explicitly or implicitly.
If Google can't even streamline its messaging strategy, how can it ever hope to put up a fight against Apple turning messaging into a competitive platform?
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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A and C shares) and Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.