Startups have been launching on iOS first for a long time, avoiding Android for as long as they can. Over the years, I’ve heard numerous explanations for that. And in the early days of Android, it made perfect sense: it had a smaller market share, it had less apps in the Play Store (then called Android Market), and it was the phone of ‘poor people’ – people that didn’t spend money on their phones. So let’s take a closer look at the reasons behind these decisions, such as developer revenue per app store, screen size market fragmentation, and OS fragmentation.
Android fragmentation – run in fear!
One “iOS first” argument has always been the much-feared Android market fragmentation. Android has hundreds of models of phones. They all have different screen sizes, resolutions, and pixel densities. Then, on top of it, the Android tablets also come in a million sizes and resolutions! Sheer madness!
On top of that, Google has been updating the Android OS constantly, and not every phone maker upgrades their existing phones to the latest Android version. This means that a lot of phones run older versions of Android, unlike iOS, where Apple sweeps everyone into the latest version.
Android fragmentation – screen differences are not so scary at all
In a recent article on Gizmodo, we are reassured that Android fragmentation is not difficult at all to code for, according to developer Russell Ivanovic’s detailed post. He calls it a complete myth, and tells us in lots of detail how Google tackled this issue very early in the life of the Android OS by providing some awesome developer tools that allow you to specify different UI layouts for different screen sizes (specifically tablet vs phone), and how pixel density differences are handled very elegantly. These tools have been part of Android from the beginning. Ask Android users if they have problems with badly laid out apps, and they’ll look at you confused – it’s rare.
This in is stark contrast with iOS – when the iPad first came out and lots of apps had ugly empty space around it because iOS had no way of coping with multiple screen sizes.
Android versions – painful to develop for?
Let’s make sure we’re not confusing two issues. When the phone in your pocket doesn’t run the latest version of Android, instant gadget envy rears its ugly head, of course. And indeed, there are lots of versions of Android out there. But what does it mean from the developers point of view?
Coding for Android – a simple choice
Android is divided roughly into two main versions: Android 2 and 4. If you want to build an app that works on version 2 AND 4, you have to take the lowest common denominator and code for version 2, and it will run fine on both. If you want an app that only runs on version 4, allowing you to use the latest and greatest coding techniques, the version 2 people cannot run your app anymore.
How is this handled in practice? 14.2% of Android users are still on version 2. These are mostly people in emerging markets. So in practice, everyone uses the latest coding techniques and codes for Android 4 only, leaving behind some users in countries that would never pay for anything anyway, plus version 2 is losing market share rapidly.
Is this really true? I’ve talked to lots of Android and iOS teams, and they say if they implement the same app on both platforms, the development time is roughly the same, and testing on Android is mostly a non-issue, as you can do it on your computer in emulators.
We all know that Android commands a bigger market share in the global mobile (phones + tablets) market, right? But not where it matters, in the US? Wrong – Android has 61.9% market share in the US, whereas Apple has 32.5%. So for every iPhone in the US there are two Android phones in the US, roughly. Go to China, and Android’s domination is even stronger at 82.7%, and in Europe, 73.3%. Those are some pretty big numbers.
So – let’s get this straight, even in its strongest market, the US, Apple is outnumbered 2:1.
The final metric: MONEY spent in the app stores
Since this is the only metric still pointing in favor of an ‘iOS first’ strategy, this metric is constantly all over the media, most recently by Andreessen Horowitz analyst Benedict Evans. Part of the problem is that both Google and Apple release very few numbers that give us a detailed picture. At the recent Google I/O conference Google said it paid $5bn to developers over the past year.
Jan Dawson, a Google I/O attendee, did his magic, and concludes “Google is catching up quickly in payments to developers”. If you look at this graph, in less than 12 months, Android will dominate in this final metric.
But did that the total revenue number even matter?
We’re so focused on revenue from the app store, that we ignore some facts: lots of apps support other platforms, and generate revenue on other ways. My phone has a great SalesForce CRM app on it – it’s free. But of course our company pays for the CRM! Apps also often drive revenue on other platforms. In Android apps, you can freely send users to another platform to do a transaction – how much revenue is generated that way? iOS blocks this, by the way, and insists on a 30% cut.
Other apps are ad based, and that revenue can come from any one of hundreds of ad exchanges. Again, none of that revenue is part of this graph.
So why is there all this irrational decision making by startups?
Apple is beloved in the startup world and the tech press for good reasons: we all love our Apple gear! I can’t remember the last time i met a tech journalist or a startup founder toting anything other than a Macbook, an iphone, and maybe an iPad mini. In San Francisco, iOS marketshare must be 80% or higher, if you just sit on a MUNI train and look around. But wait, i thought the US marketshare number was much lower? That’s right, it’s 32.5%. So why are all my friends and the people i work with iPhone users?
I live in a tech bubble, and so do you probably
The truth is, if you work in the tech world, you’re not around average people. That’s probably true for any industry, but in this case, the startup founders who have to make the decision with what mobile technology to go first, are people who’s parents probably have iPhone’s too, let alone their friends, their co-founders, their investors, their developers, and their kids. This creates a very biased view of the world. Even when we do customer validation (remember the Lean Methodology!), we ask the people around us, or in the street of the city where we live. In the San Francisco Bay Area, this inevitably leads to a very skewed view.
Conclusion: let’s think rationally and make objective decisions
When choosing to launch on iOS or Android, you’re probably under a lot of pressure. Take some time, leave San Francisco for a day or two if you live there, and do some independent research. This article contains some links to hard data, use them as a tool to explore! But don’t let your investor or your developer pressure you – business decisions need to be made based on fact, not emotion.