Deciding Which OS Version to Choose for Your App

Picking the right range of OS versions is a very important part of the development process. For both iOS and Android mobile devices you should always aim to reach the newest device models with the latest OS versions

Although many users around the world still use very outdated smartphones that go back 5 years or more, your mission is to deliver an app that supports versions which your target audience in certain locations use. 

Always remember the #1 rule – don’t try to satisfy everyone because that’s just not possible. And “what OS version should my app support” is a very popular question that we get from our clients often, so let’s make it clear.

iOS and Android: What’s the Difference? 

Apple has a complete command over its iOS ecosystem and it regularly ships updates to all iPhones around the world. Unlike it, all other smartphones face the so-called Android fragmentation because Android is unable to control all the carriers, since major smartphone manufacturers like Samsung or Xiaomi and other OEMs (original equipment manufacturer) have a final say as to what can be done with Android OS on any device they have produced. 

How Many Versions Should Your App Support?

Not too many, at least for starters. And even then your target audience will update their smartphones earlier or later, so think ahead. Usually, every new annual version release happens along with a shutdown of the old version. 

Even the most ambitious app developers cannot maintain a big gap (for example, support for Android 4 and Android 10) and it comes to an obvious choice to navigate the development towards the latest version because it works faster, looks better and is going to be used by more people.

Dealing with iOS is easier because it ships updates via cloud and, unlike Google, it really does a full update instead of incremental changes done to Android OS, even on their Pixel line or Android One program. Instead of 5-4 Android versions, iOS developers are required to think only about 2 of the latest versions because the current iOS version and the previous one are what the lion share of iPhone users have (more than 90%) and you can see that on the graph below. 

Such order and organization makes Apple a cleaner ecosystem with no fragmentation like that of Android where the amount of devices and different OEMs gives way to accidental bugs, app shutdowns, and frequent crashes.   

It is reasonable to include, for example, Android Lollipop and Marshmallow (versions 5 and 6) if your target audience consists of the residents in developing regions of the world (China, India, Brazil, Africa, Russia) since more people there use older device models as compared to Western countries where the majority of population have newer models. Therefore, you should always consider your target audience and make the decision based on your market research. 

Therefore,  if you’re doing MVP, then you should definitely limit the number of supported versions that go back. Although, version support is a part of groundwork, so it should be decided right in the very beginning and cannot be adjusted on later development stages. 

Does It Cost Extra to Add More Versions? 

Yes, it does. Adding more APIs for more versions means additional costs because it takes developers some time to engineer a more OS-friendly app to support more devices.  

Generally, adding one more version to the list of supported OS can result in a 5-10% increase of development time and price. The complexity of task goes up proportionally to the version age. 

Mind Your Target Audience

In some cases you as a business owner can benefit if your app is supported on the outdated devices.  Consider your target audience and the devices they use since it is a single most important factor to keep in mind when choosing the range of supported OS versions for any iOS and/or Android software development project.  

Take, for example, Tinder. This year Tinder stopped to support Android 4 and 5. According to a research users with the smartphones that run Android 4 or 5 are not likely to buy in-app purchases (Tinder Plus and Tinder Gold premium extensions) which means that they can be cut off for the benefit of new users and newer versions of OEM, of which a bigger percentage delivers actual revenue for a company. 

Conclusion

So, what do we have? It’s 2 versions for iOS, the latest and the one before it. And it’s minimum 3 and maximum 5 versions for Android OS. Basically, that’s it. Developing the MVP, you can lower the number of supported OS versions. Keep in mind, though, that to add older versions later will be practically impossible. But that’s probably because you won’t need them after all. 

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