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Summary:

As Android veers toward domination of the mobile market, Apple’s iOS lead may soon take a hit. Google still needs to iron out some wrinkles like hardware fragmentation, but Android’s open approach and growing market share mean it should be a startup’s first choice mobile platform.

Nr. 1 in the sky

In the heady days of the iPhone’s advent, Kleiner Perkins announced a $100 million fund to focus on investing in its wake. Just two years later, Kleiner Perkins has tapped out the $100 million and and has since doubled that commitment with another $100 million earlier this year. It’s probably money well spent, but could it be better invested in Android?

After all, Google’s Android already claims 25 percent of mobile web usage, and is on track to dominate over half the smartphone market, according to a new report from Piper Jaffray. So where’s the Android Fund?

Yes, Android has been slower to pay dividends to its third-party developer community than Apple’s iOS, in part because of its platform fragmentation problems. However, this strikes me as a transitory problem: one that is being resolved by Google, and that entrepreneurial developers are likely to help fix. There’s simply too much money at stake for the problem not to be solved.

All of which leads me to believe we’re not far off from the time that startups will pitch VCs on their new Android-only software. Whatever the one-upmanship between Steve Jobs and Google over which company is activating the most handsets, it’s clear that Android is shipping in huge quantities, and its momentum is accelerating, while the Piper Jaffray report referenced above predicts Apple’s iOS will plateau at 20 to 30 percent of the smartphone market. That’s nothing to sneeze at, of course, but if Android looks likely to top 50 percent, which is the smarter long-term bet?

Android also comes with the added benefit of being very developer-friendly. It’s not perfect but its openness is a welcome reprieve from Apple’s ‘Big Brother’ approach. Noted Firefox developer Joe Hewitt calls it “really flexible, agnostic, and developer-friendly…[like] Windows.”

That’s not a critique. Hewitt, in addition to his browser claim-to-fame, is also the developer who originally took Facebook to the iPhone. He’s been involved in some exceptional projects, and recognizes Windows as an exceptional developer platform, a compliment he’s willing to offer Android despite its shortcomings, particularly in the area of tools.

Windows, for all its stodginess, managed to take at least 95 percent of the desktop market. I suspect Android will claim quite a decent share of the mobile market, too.

Again, Android is far from perfect, but it offers developers some pleasantries that iOS, and more to the point, Apple, doesn’t provide. Android development is done in Java, as opposed to Apple’s once-obscure Objective C. Java may be old-school, but it’s still a primary development platform for a wide swath of developers, particularly in enterprise IT, which does a great deal of the world’s application development.

Android’s restrictions on how applications work are based on the carrier, rather than Apple’s often arbitrary usage policies related not just to application submission, but also to location, logging of user clickstream and content. That kind of information can be manna from heaven for developers as it helps them fine-tune their apps to meet user needs, but iOS is largely a black box, whereas Android is an open book.

For these reasons, and for the ease of working with Google compared to the Apple alternative, we should begin seeing more developers start with Android, rather than iOS. And it will happen soon. Yes, despite Android’s fragmentation problem (though for the company that overcomes this fragmentation for Google, there’s a lot of money to be made). Yes, despite the uncoolness of its Java approach, or even the Oracle lawsuit-inspired cloud hovering over Android.

When you have big market share and an open approach to development and deployment, the developers will flock. If your startup is on the cusp of making this decision, or already has, please share your experience with us in the comments below.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: It’s Time for Nokia to Embrace Android

  1. Well, for those who are looking ahead 1 year or more, WP7 may be the one to develop for. I just think MS will make a strong comeback with WP7 and will dominate again. They have too many advantages with W7/Office/XBox/Silverlight.

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    1. Yes, when I think of “smart phone”, I immediately think of MS Office, XBox, and Silverlight integration!

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  2. I’m still waiting for Android to attract quality apps that will make me ditch my iPhone.

    Even comparing apps by the same company one can see the graphic quality on the iPhone outshines its Android sibling (Facebook, Twitter, Remember The Milk, etc.).

    Until then I will continue to use the iDevice to my own hurt (as I really want to use Google Voice and an email app that doesn’t suck).

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  3. There are so many incorrect and uninformed statements here I don’t know where to start. Its as if you cut and pasted from a bunch of articles and mashed it all together. Which is probably exactly what you did.

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    1. I agree 100% with YourMommy: Developing for Android may be more appealing than iPhone due to the aforementioned “open vs closed, Google vs Apple” issues, but developing, marketing and making a living developing Android apps that work across all the _carrier_ restrictions is a huge (and “old school mobile”) PITA. I’ll stick with the relative accessibility and profitability of the iTunes App Store. All you other guys jump on Android, and leave me the click-once upload and sell iPhone. Thanks.

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  4. Great observations, Matt – we’ve been in close conversation with the developer community on this topic and strongly agree that this is where things are headed. We’ve shared some stats about cross-platform development already (see http://blog.appstorehq.com/post/760323632/ios-vs-android-over-1-000-developers-including-some) and have more data to share if you’re interested – just give a shout at chrisd at appstorehq dot com

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  5. Long term, will Google give up on Android – They don’t have any control and they’ve now even lost search on the new Samsung/Verizon – It’s Bing
    If Google can’t make Android investments pay off through mobile search, what happens.

    Not sure all these rosy android predictions will come true, too early to tell, it could easily just go to hell in a hand basket.

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  6. I’ve talked with eBay, OpenTable, and Sephora recently about what they are seeing. They still see the best customers are using iPhones and more dollars are being driven via iPhone apps than Android (or any other mobile platform, for that matter — Sephora’s head of web told me she sees 80% of all mobile phone usage in their stores are iPhones. Until that changes startups won’t listen to your advice.

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    1. Sephora is not the best reference since its main target demographics (affluent females) tend to have an eye-candy iPhone rather than mannish phones like Motorola Droids.

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    2. Speaking from “developer” point of view, I would agree with this that iOs market is a safer bet for direct monetization.

      Apple has the magic to make its user buys stuff. I become a Mac user, and I bought a $13 software that I would have never bought on Windows (just few months ago). They really nailed it down with the iPhone/iPad App Store.

      Now, if you want to “build-to-flip” strategy and needs lot of users and do not care about early monetization, then, Android is probably a wise bet.

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  7. I am iPhone developer and I could not agree more with this post. There are several problems we are having with Apple at the moment.
    Right now Apple is delaying more than two weeks the approvals. We have several bugs fixed waiting for Apple approval already 19 days, and this affects our sales directly.
    We would like also to try some technologies testing them in some free apps, but some of them are not allowed by the devices.
    I believe that Android is better to be the primary platform mainly because the freedom of the ecosystem, then it is possible to port the apps to iPhone.
    I love the Apple devices, but unfortunately for us, the inflexible rules are starting to affect our business.

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  8. Android development is so not fun that people would rather manually manage memory on IOS.. And we haven’t seen the start of tablet fragmentation yet.

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  9. Matt – Agree. Android has great future. However, Quantcast report presents incomplete and inaccurate picture. I am very surprised to see the report circulating around web! Check out my blog post on mobile web usage on Android and iOS devices: http://delip.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/mobile-web-usage-on-ios-devices-is-12-times-that-of-android/

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  10. Funny how you not only cherry-picked the Hewitt quote, you truncated it to exclude the real meat: “it’s really flexible, agnostic, and developer-friendly, but also really sloppily designed.”

    That missing bit is the real meat because that quote is part of a twitter-tirade by Hewitt about what an awful experience he’s having dev’ing on Android. Instead you use it as the basis of how wonderful Android and Windows development is?! Weak sauce…

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