Google took major steps last week to boost adoption of Android L, the latest version of its mobile operating system. In fact, the company did something it has never done before: It released a developer preview.

Since the beginning, Google's approach to major Android releases followed roughly the same format. The announcement typically involved a partner making a Nexus flagship reference device, with the newest version of the platform shipping to developers and other manufacturers so they could build apps and devices for it.

This process actually slowed adoption by consumers, manufacturers and developers. After Google announced a new version, it often took companies such as HTC and Samsung as long as three to six months to build new devices for it, or ship software updates for older phones and tablets. Meanwhile, developers hesitated to build apps optimized for it because so few consumers had the latest version.

For instance, the latest version of Android—version 4.4, dubbed "KitKat"—was announced eight months ago, on October 31, 2013. Since then, only 13.6% of Android devices that touch Google’s servers run KitKat. In comparison, 14.9% of devices run Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which was announced in December of 2010.
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