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TECHNOLOGY

Android vs. iOS: Which Is Better for Mobile Start-ups?
 

For years, app developers have assumed that building for Apple first was a smart strategy. But maybe that's not the case after all.

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Until recently, mobile app developers have generally thought that if you wanted to make money, you'd bring your product to the iPhone and iPad on Apple's operating system. That's where the money was, according to Steve Jobs and then Tim Cook, who would talk about the billions paid to app developers. After all, when's the last time you heard Eric Schmidt or Larry Page brag about the amount of money they paid to Android developers?

But even a few years ago there were signs that a default to Apple might not be the best choice for all developers. Today, there are increasing signs that software entrepreneurs might be wise to rethink their strategies, as developer Will Whitney writes. According to Whitney, there are some significant reasons why a developer might start to focus more on Android than on iOS.

Punitive Development Cycle

Apple has always been controlling of its app ecosystem since it first started, but the grip has become tighter to the detriment of many developers. Creating and releasing any iOS app means going through Apple's bureaucracy, because you can only provide apps through the Apple App Store. Rather than be able to use the modern process of incrementally improving software through multiple releases, developers are effectively forced to create a fairly complete version of an app before learning whether they're even doing something that the public will find of interest, let alone how user demands will influence the software's design. The contrast is Google's Android, in which developers can quickly bring software to market, see what needs to be changed, and then fix it.

Android Is a More Needy Market

There are hundreds of thousands of apps on mobile platforms--enough to create app overload. The number of new apps is so large that few people have the time to wade through them, especially as they already have their favorites. Although the number of apps grows, the amount of time that people spend with them apparently doesn't, the New York Times recently reported. To get anywhere, you have to get attention. Whitney argues that standing out is much easier on Android because they are "starved for beautiful apps." Provide good design with great functionality and chances are better that you can get attention from the press and users.

iPhone No Longer Has an Advantage

The smartphone market--or about 80 percent of it globally--belongs to Android devices. The days of Apple having the bulk of users are gone. The basic capabilities of both platforms are roughly equivalent, and some people are arguing that Android has become the superior one.

Is the Real Answer Neither?

But the bigger question is whether entrepreneurs can make money on mobile apps. Apple has reportedly been better at passing dollars on to app developers, and yet, on the average, an app will gross just under $18,000, not including any costs. That's average. Look at how heavily downloads are weighted toward a relative handful of apps and the amount that most apps really make is fairly insignificant. Maybe the question isn't so much about iOS versus Android, but how difficult it will be to build a business on making and selling mobile apps.

IMAGE: Steve Rhodes/Flickr
Last updated: Sep 24, 2013

ERIK SHERMAN's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.
@ErikSherman




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