June 18, 2012

Platform Fragmentation and Developer Interest, Android vs iOS

In an earlier article we pointed to a comScore study which found that sales of Android handsets are outpacing those of Apple’s iOS (along with those of every other smartphone platform). This is happening both in the US and in Europe. More Android handsets sold, more market share for Google’s platform, you’d be forgiven for thinking that both consumer and developer interest are leaning decisively towards the little green guy.

But it’s not that simple. As Erik Slivka points out in his June 7th piece in MacRumors, developers are overwhelmingly opting to develop for iOS, despite Apple’s lower market share. Slivka quotes Flurry Analytics, which issued a report cited in his article, stating “Android delivers less gain and more pain than iOS … the key reason seven out of every 10 apps built in the new economy are for iOS instead of Android.” Apparently, of 18,000 SDK downloads by smartphone developers in Q1 2012, 69% were for iOS. The key reason appears to be the extremely fragmented state of the Android device space. With multiple handset manufacturers, an endless proliferation of models (and screen sizes), and with operating system updates having to go from Google to the handset manufacturers to the providers before they get to the devices, most Android handsets are two or three major revisions behind the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update. Scroll down to the end of Slivka’s piece to see that as of his writing, only 7.1% of Android phones were running the latest software. Contrast this to Apple’s installed base of iOS devices, 95% of which were running that platform’s latest update: iOS 6.

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The fragmentation problem is not merely statistical or academic. In Michael DeGusta’s excellent analysis from October of last year, he points to the constraints faced by developers writing software for Android phones, “most app developers will end up targeting an ancient version of the OS in order to maximize market reach.” Fewer apps and less investment towards Android on the part of developers translates to a more limited selection of worse-performing apps in the hands of consumers. DeGusta adds that those consumers are likely to be less satisfied with their phones to begin with, since most of them are running outdated versions of Android. This also impacts the expectations and “culture” of consumers on either side of the divide. iOS users expect more from their phones and their apps, but they’re also willing to pay more for that refinement.

At Waverley, we’re continuing to see interest in both Android and iOS on the part of our clients, and more cost-conscious clients are increasingly asking us to develop cross-platform apps using a single code base in HTML5. We might talk about the tradeoffs of such an approach in a future article. For now it’s clear that while Android pushes more handsets, most developers feel that iOS is where more money can be made.