Android is big. Really big. According to research firm Gartner, 79% of all smartphones sold between April and June this year were running Android: 177.9m handsets compared to Apple’s 31.9m iPhones.
Another research firm, IDC, estimates that 62.6% of tablets that shipped to retailers between April and June were running Android: 28.2m devices versus 14.6m iPads.
Meanwhile, Google says that more than 1.5m new Android devices are being activ
ated every day, it’s nearing 1bn activated in total so far, and that by the end of this year that total will include more than 70m Android tablets.
Big. Yet a lot of apps still come out for Apple’s iOS first or even exclusively. Right now, if you own an iOS device, you can play Plants vs. Zombies 2, Clash of Clans and Worms 3, but Android owners can’t.
Instagram launched on Android 18 months after iOS. Nike’s Nike+ FuelBand still hasn’t made the leap. Mailbox and Tweetbot are still no-shows, and while much-praised children’s app-maker Toca Boca has 18 apps available on iOS, only one of them is also on Android Mexicom.
This week, yet another research firm, Canalys, fuelled the flames of this debate by pointing out that 30% of the 50 top paid and 50 top free iPad apps aren’t also available on Android – although 11 of the 30 un-ported apps were made by Apple, so their Android-less status is hardly a surprise.
So what’s going on? If you’re one of the millions of new Android users wondering why you can’t get some apps your Apple-owning friends can, here are some reasons, analysis of whether they’re fair, and some optimistic thoughts on why this may change.
Developer concerns about costs and complexity
What? Developing iOS apps means ensuring they work nicely on a small range of iPhones and/or iPads: generally 6-8 different devices depending how far back the developer wants to go.
On Android, it’s a different story: nearly 12,000 different devices out there in the hands of people, with a wider range of screen sizes, processors and versions of the Android software still in use.
Many developers’ lack of enthusiasm for Android is down to concerns not just about the costs of making and testing their apps for it, but also the resources required to support them once they’re launched, if emails flood in about unspotted bugs on particular models.
Is this fair? Fragmentation, as it’s called, may not be solved, but it’s become a more-manageable problem – and thus a less-convincing excuse for avoiding Android altogether.
Improved development tools are making porting easier, and there’s more data (including Google’s own) to help developers decide which Android devices to focus their energies on first. If they’re upfront with users about which phones and tablets their app will work on, the support queries’ aspect becomes less daunting too.
That said, many developers still prefer to launch on iOS, iterate their app over a couple of updates in response to feedback from their users, then tackle Android – with extra time for testing to ensure the app works well, and has Android-specific features (widgets, for example).
You could argue that these developers are making more of an effort to serve Android users, not less. But that may not make the wait for some apps less frustrating.
Developer concerns about profits and piracy
What? When developers are slow to support Android, it’s often not just about the money and time they’ll spend getting there – it’s concern about the money they’ll make once on the platform.
It tends to be a two-pronged thing: first, the perception that Android users are less likely to spend money on or in apps, and second, the belief that paid apps in particular suffer from crippling levels of piracy on Android.
Is this fair? Piracy on Android is a fact: developers of paid apps who keep a close eye on their analytics often notice lots more people using them than have actually bought them on a store like Google Play. Games suffer in particular from this.
Yet a.) piracy is also a fact of life on iOS through some elements of its jailbreaking community, b.) it’s always difficult to work out how many pirates represent genuinely-lost sales – would they have bought the app otherwise? – and c.) if an app is free (or freemium) then piracy is much less of a headache.
On the Android-users-less-keen-to-pay point, it’s true that iOS is still more lucrative for developers. Apple has paid out more than $10bn to its developers, while Google hasn’t given comparable figures.
Analytics company Distimo estimated that in April 2013, if you added the revenues from iOS‘ App Store and Android’s Google Play together, their respective shares would be 73% and 27%. But a year before, that had been more like 81% and 19%.
It’s improving, in other words, and as it does, more apps come out for iOS and Android simultaneously, or at least take less long to jump from the former to the latter.
Developers are still in Apple’s back pocket
Why don’t some developers support Android? Because they’re lickspittle Cupertino-loving blinkered Apple fanboys, as are the journalists who write about their apps, and anyone else who praises iOS and/or criticises Android. Or so the theory goes.
Is this fair? Obviously not, although I’m probably being paid by Apple to write that…
No, seriously, some iOS developers focus on that platform alone because they like Apple and/or aren’t that keen on Android. But for others it’s more a resources issue – small studios and startups picking one platform when they’re just starting out (see: Instagram).
And there is an element, I suspect, of some app developers wanting to stay in Apple’s good books by supporting its devices first or exclusively: hoping for promotion in the App Store, a fleeting appearance in Apple’s ads, and maybe even a slot on-stage at one of its press launches.
It’s no secret that Apple likes developers who use (appropriately, obviously) the whizzy features of its devices, and the new elements of its annual software update for iOS. Choosing to prioritise iOS over Android is sometimes part of this desire to keep in the company’s good books too.
But things are changing…
Owning an Android device in 2013 is less bleak on the apps front than, say, in 2009. The problems outlined above have all been improving – or at least becoming less of an issue – over time. Meanwhile, the sheer scale of Android is making it worth many more developers’ while to get their apps onto Google-powered devices as quickly as possible.
That improvement can be seen in the Canalys study. Stripping out the Apple apps, 19 of the 100 most popular iPad apps aren’t on Android. A year ago, that figure would have been much higher.
Industry analyst Benedict Evans put it neatly in a blog post earlier this month.
“Developers are starting to move from creating new products on the basis ‘iPhone, then maybe Android’ to ‘iPhone and then Android’ or even ‘iPhone and Android at the same time’. Cool little apps from seed-funded companies are still iPhone-only, but most big well-funded businesses are doing both.
Android is no longer optional for any publisher seeking real reach. This applies even more if your app is free, since Android download rates are much closer to iOS than are Android payment rates (and of course ‘free’ doesn’t mean no revenue).”
Evans thinks the balance may tilt even further, and that more developers will go Android-first in 2014 unless Apple takes action – hence the prospect of the company launching a cheaper iPhone to grab some market share back from Android.
So yes, if you own an Android device, you still get some apps late or not at all. But it happens less than it used to, there’s a huge pipe of interesting stuff being released – see this blog’s 50 best Android apps from 2013 so far article, or the weekly roundup of 20 new Android apps for evidence there.
But stepping outside the ill-tempered flame wars about Apple versus Google, iOS versus Android and Cupertino fanboys versus Mountain View apologists…
The bigger point here is that the competition between these two platforms is good news for users of both, as Apple and Google battle to win the hearts, minds and roadmaps of app developers with better devices, more features and improved ways for us to find the apps that they create as a result.