Anyone who creates software for mobile devices has to weigh the time and resources available to support multiple platforms. Recent research shows that the Apple iOS devices are still garnering more attention – and development time – than Android or other alternatives. But it depends which survey you read.
For David Murray, it’s no contest: Developing apps for the iPhone means more dollars in his pocket than building for Android devices. Not to mention the branding perspective.
“The iPhone brand is cleaner, more polished, and higher quality than Android,” he says. “iPhone is the device you have to save up for, and Android is the device you get for free when you sign up for a contract.”
Murray, founder and CEO of GoalSponsors, says there’s also a greater trust factor with Apple, since it sets the bar high on quality. GoalSponsors helps people meet personal weight loss and fitness goals with the help of an “accountability buddy.”
“As a developer, you never want to work on something that’s going to fail under your feet,” Murray says. “I trust Apple because they have a very high quality bar. And while it may be frustrating to go through that quality bar, that’s why I trust it.”
Just as the iPhone has a certain cachet with consumers, mobile developers also prefer the platform by a wide margin, according to the latest findings from the Appcelerator/IDC Q2 2012 Mobile Developer Report, which surveyed more than 3,600 developers who use its Titanium product. In that report, Apple’s mobile platform had a 16% lead over Google’s, with 53% of respondents expecting iOS to win in the enterprise compared with 37% giving the nod to Android. The findings are significant, since in the third quarter of 2011 developers put the two platforms in a dead heat at 44% each.
“That says a couple of things: Android has not done a great job at courting the enterprise … whereas Apple has, working with MDM vendors to get better security on devices,” says Michael King, director of enterprise strategy at Appcelerator. Apple has also “put a ton of effort into appealing to its enterprise client base” on its website, King says, such as a step-by-step manual on how to deploy iOS in the enterprise and cases studies on companies that have done so.
Apple’s increasing strength in the enterprise is also due to the iPad’s popularity, the greater threat of malware attacking Android, and the challenges of dealing with Android fragmentation.
“The enterprise looks at all of this and says, ‘Great, I’m going to go with iOS because it’s the most secure choice,”’ King says.
However, a recent mobile development survey by research firm Evans Data Corp. finds that, contrary to the Appcelerator/IDC report, Android is actually the main mobile development target platform of choice, according to 63% of respondents, just edging out 63% who plan on using Java, 45% who are targeting the iPhone, and 45% who are targeting Windows Phone.
“The number of viable choices is beginning to decrease, as a few platforms have risen to garner much of the developer mindshare, and as other technologies lose their shine,” the Evans report states. “The present research continues to show growing indifference of mobile app developers for feature phone development, as smartphones are increasingly becoming standard choices for everyday mobile phone users.”
Among internal developers who primarily write mobile software for their own companies, 62% are currently targeting Java, while 52% are targeting Android and 42% Windows Phone, according to the Evans report. Interestingly, only 35% are writing apps for the iPhone.
The Appcelerator/IDC study did mention some positive news for Google, as well, noting that, “The noticeable erosion of developer interest in Android over the last four quarters … seems to have been arrested.” The survey attributes that to the huge growth of Android device shipments, especially handsets, and the fact that the platform has more affordable price points, which it says outweighs the Android ecosystem fragmentation and monetization issues.
The Appcelerator/IDC research also found that developers believe Windows 8 holds some promise, and call Microsoft’s Metro UI “compelling.” Meanwhile, King says, developers’ interest level in developing for Windows 7 and Windows 7.5 — the Mango OS update for Windows Phone that came out last September — “got really low scores compared to even last quarter,” which was the first time the question was asked. In Q1, 37% were very interested in developing for Windows 7 or Windows 7.5; that figure dropped to 25% in the most recent report, he says.
“That surprised us; although if we look at performance of 7.5 and the number of devices shipped and Lumia launches, it’s not all that surprising,” King says. “But in the context of Microsoft as a whole … 33% of our developers are interested in developing for Windows 8, which, given the fact that tablet hasn’t been introduced, tells us developers are cautiously optimistic about this. They don’t see lot of legs in the 7 or 7.5 strategy but are hoping Windows 8 performs a lot better.”
Respondents were also asked to identify the biggest problems they face as mobile developers. Some 63% said multiple operating systems, followed by multiple device classes, like smartphones and tablets (51%), and learning many different languages (49%).
All of that percolates down into individual developers’ decisions.
Like Murray, Shannon Hicks, CTO of Pintley, a recommendation engine for craft beers, also prefers iOS to Android, mainly because of the fragmentation issue.
“When I build an app, I hear back that something doesn’t look right on this specific device, or this other device has a problem,” he says. It takes a lot of time to build a stable of test devices. That also means having to carry around several different types of phones when doing development work, he says, which costs money to buy and use.
“On the iPhone, if I have four phones I have all the currently supported phones out there,” says Hicks. In contrast, with Android, he says, “It feels like the openness of the platform is its biggest strength, but it’s also its biggest weakness.” Although the platform has improved over years, and Project Butter is improving Android 4.1’s speed, the way Hicks sees it, half of the active Android phones are still running an earlier version. “So if you’re trying to monetize your app on Android you can’t just target 4.1 [or] you’re cutting yourself out of the vast majority of the market.”
Windows Mobile is the only other mobile platform Hicks says he would be interested in developing for – if more users were buying the devices. “Microsoft has a great thing going with Nokia; it seems like a solid product. The problem is the lack of market share.”
Hicks uses Titanium to build cross-platform native apps for iOS and Android, as well as to build a mobile web version of an app, since it enables that out of the box.
“It’s not as slick and as nice, and the web-based controls aren’t as refined as the native controls, but I can build one web app that can target a large number of handsets, and without the ability to do that I wouldn’t be able to afford to build apps for all devices,” Hicks says. “It’s an acceptable solution.”
Murray concurs that while Titanium makes it easier to build across different platforms, Android works very differently from the iPhone. “You have to choose how to structure your code. You hit many decision points when you build your app, and you have to decide whether to build for one or the other or both,” as well as conduct testing on both platforms.
When he first began building mobile apps, Murray says he thought he’d start with the iPhone and then Android, but that soon changed.
“The more you work, the more you realize, ‘Oh wow, there’s all these decisions to make to build this way for the iPhone or Android,’ and you basically have to make a choice. There’s the money side and the branding side and there’s the experience and cultural side.”
However, Murray says as soon as his app for iPhone launches, and his company determines whether it’s successful, they will immediately build on Android. “It’s not question of if, but when,” he says. “Even though Android has its drawbacks it’s still a big platform and its user base is still growing, and even if it doesn’t spend as much money as iPhone’s user base, it may grow big enough that it will be worthwhile.”
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