Is Android Losing App Developers To iOS?

BY Rounak Jain

Published 18 Jul 2011

Android development versus iOS development

There is no denying Android’s huge growth in the past year and a half. With each iteration of the OS, Google has fixed bugs, introduced new features and tried to make Android better. But unfortunately because of Google’s reliance on middlemen like carriers and hardware manufacturers to deliver updates, many phones still run older versions of the OS despite the source code of the latest version out in the open.

A look at the developer section of Android’s website tells us that more than half of Android phones still run Froyo, a version which is more than a year old. Gingerbread, the latest version of the OS accounts for less than 20% of Android phones. (Even the iPhone can run Gingerbread!)

Flurry, an analytics firm has released a report that indicates Android is losing its appeal as far as developers are concerned, earlier reports however portrayed a different picture. The sample audience in surveys and reports like these matters a lot. If not chosen correctly the results tend to be highly skewed in favor of a certain platform. Keeping this in mind, let us have a look at the thought process that goes through a developer’s mind before deciding to develop for a platform.

Install Base

Even though Android currently leads in terms of smartphone market share with around 135 million devices, the iOS ecosystem still trounces Android in terms of the sheer number of devices out there. Developers develop apps not just for the iPhone but for the iOS ecosystem which includes iPod Touches and iPads totally amounting to nearly 200 million devices. So when given a choice between a target audience of 200 million and 135 million any sane person would choose to opt for the former.

Development tools

The next factor that counts is development tools. How user friendly developer tools are? How easy is it to learn the development language?

Apple’s development tools are a lot better when it comes to designing, creating interfaces and testing apps on the simulator. There is a steep learning curve associated with Objective-C, the preferred choice for native application development on iOS, but after that the development process is really smooth. Android has the advantage of a lot of developers already being familiar with Java (Android’s development language), but the whole process of installing the SDK, creating virtual devices and designing interfaces is unpleasant. But iOS development which isn’t cross platform, involves higher costs as compared to Android development.

So if money isn’t a constraint it would make sense for developers to chose iOS.


This is a major problem which plagues Android developers as well as Google. New phones with different screen sizes, hardware capabilities and operating systems flood the market everyday and it is difficult for developers to ensure that their apps run without any quirks on all phones. Compare this with iOS, where developers have a very small number of devices to test their apps on, and ensure they run smoothly on all of them.

An example of this: The Hulu app is available only on six out of the hundreds of Android phones available.

Willingness to Pay

Countless reports reaffirm the fact that iOS users buy more apps than Android users. According to GigaOm, an iOS user on an average downloads 83 apps with the average selling price of an app being $1.48. Android on the other is known for apps that are plastered with ads and given out for free. When Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds launched on the Android Market, they chose to give away the app for free supported via ads.


An app won’t be downloaded if it doesn’t get popular. The App Store has various ways through which it gives visibility to apps, like Staff Picks, App of the week, New and Noteworthy etc. Android developers have always complained about not being publicised well enough through the Android Market. This and the open nature of Android has led to the rise of alternative stores like the Amazon Appstore, Verizon’s VCAST App store and others. Even if this solves the problem of visibility in some way it brings along with it the hassle of tracking your apps in multiple places. This April fools post by iOS developer Ray Wenderlich highlights exactly this problem.

Pretty Apps

Because of Apple’s expertise and focus on design, it is very easy for a developer without any experience in design to make an app with a nice looking UI just by following the Human Interface Guidelines. Ugly Android apps have a Tumblr dedicated to them. Good UI is definitely a huge selling point when it comes to apps, and hiring a designer to do that means extra money. So if Apple lets you create pretty apps without putting any extra efforts why would developers go for Android?

All in all it seems that even though the entry point to iOS development might be a bit expensive and difficult, the journey after that is very smooth without having to worry about compatibility, visibility, design. Where Android scores is the hardware specs. Apple iOS device specs get bumped once in a year, while a new Android device is launched almost every three to four weeks outclassing its preprocessor. But unless developers have a sizeable number of devices with these specs, developing an app to take advantage of this would be a waste of efforts. In this post, we chose to ignore the tablet angle due to the dismal state of Honeycomb tablets.

With the launch of iPhone 5 (iPad 3 or iPad Pro?) imminent, it will only increase the interests of developers as well as buyers.

What do you think? Please share your views in the comments section below.

[via PCWorld]