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Summary:

Last year, I wrote about how the iPhone was still the best development platform. A lot can change in a year, especially in tech, but here’s why iOS still the best platform for smartphone development, even as Android passes it in terms of activations.

iOS vs Android

Last year, I wrote about how the iPhone was still the best development platform. But a lot can change in a year, especially when it comes to technology, and that technology includes players like Google and Apple. There’s no denying an army of device manufacturers using a very capable, open-source operating system with an attractive licensing model will collectively overtake a single device manufacturer. But who is benefiting from this model, and is it good for third-party developers?

Last year, the distinction between the two platforms was easier to evaluate; Google has caught up to and surpassed Apple in the important area of new activations. But there’s plenty more for developers to consider before making a choice about which platform to support.

Just Follow the Money

With iOS and Apple, there’s clearly one primary source of income: the direct sale of the final product into the hands of consumers. The relationship isn’t quite so clear with Google and Android. Google can’t make money directly from the licensing of Android. Manufacturers and carriers are in the driver’s seat, and all they want to do is sell parts and service contracts. At best, Android was created as a strategy to gain access to consumer information.

Google is more interested in user behavior, social networks, and even location information than in traditional direct revenue. Apple certainly wasn’t going to share or otherwise surrender such information to anyone. Apple worked too hard to change all that.  So what was a marketing and search company like Google to do? Google likely had no choice but to create Android. The relationship Apple has with their customers is the core of Apple’s existence. And it’s that bond Google is looking to break. If Google loses control over specific flavors of Android modified by hardware makers, Google’s revenue opportunity on Android will be exactly the same as it is on iOS since it loses the customer relationship.

Android’s Fragmentation Evolved

A year ago, Google didn’t think it had a real fragmentation problem when the installed devices were scattered across three major divisions of the Android SDK. A year later, Google is starting to see a fragmentation issue, but not where you might think. Google is worried it’s losing control of Android, but it’s control it may never have had in the first place. The low profit margins Android smartphone manufacturers are forced to contend with are creating a situation where device manufacturers will need to compete on more than just the sum of their manufactured parts.

Android’s open environment is one where malware, pirated apps and downright malicious software can thrive. As manufacturers try to increase their margins, they are starting to enter into bundling deals with third-party app developers, including what has been referred to as bloatware on devices. Google may be powerless to regain control of Android due to its open nature, making the platform even more of a development challenge.

More Than Just a Smartphone OS

Just like iPods drove Mac sales with college students, iPhones and iPads are continuing to drive sales of Macs, largely due to how seriously Apple takes its relationship with the customer. Apple hardware sells more Apple hardware, and that’s good for developers.

There are an increasing number of software titles that have distinctly different interfaces across iPhone, iPad and Mac, but all contribute to a common goal, as both iOS and OS X share the same development environment and language through Xcode. While the install base of Android is now larger than iOS, Apple’s sales aren’t suffering. More than ever before in Apple’s history, families are choosing Apple.

Conclusion

Controlling the customer experience and a unified platform that received regular updates in a timely fashion were the key factors in being the best last year. Android fragmentation made things challenging, but not impossible, for developers. And when it came to activations, Android was still lagging behind iOS.

Now fragmentation has device manufacturers realizing they need to distinguish themselves if they want to increase profits and lure prospective buyers away from other Android handset makers. While the number of total activations across all of Android is on the rise, the Android platform is about to erupt with fierce competition, pulling it in directions we can’t possibly foresee today.

Choosing Apple from both a developer as well as a consumer perspective is not just a smartphone decision. Apple has been expanding the platform to include iPads and even the living room via content streamed to the Apple TV, and sharing code with Macs. You can’t accomplish the same synergy across multiple consumer devices with Android, and that’s why iOS should remain a winner with developers for at another year.

  1. Did you discount other platforms because of their size? The Windows Phone 7 development experience is far better than the iPhone development environment. WebOS is also a very pleasant development experience.

    You seem to have just ignored these? Popular doesn’t always equate to best.

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    1. We don’t tend to develop for those platforms because the market penetration is too low to justify the expense, no matter how easy it is. iPhone development gives us the most productivity and efficiency when it comes to reaching our market.

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      1. The way things are looking, WP7 may never take off. Can´t see a reason any OEM could choose WP7 over Android (both looking for OEMs). Android is way more popular, has the apps and its free. Can´t beat that.

        iOS has an advantage over Android (my opinion) because Apple owns the hardware and the software, has a a better user interface, owns the whole ecosystem, its secure and has more and better apps.

        In this mobile market Microsoft seems doomed.

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  2. Martin Hill Monday, May 16, 2011

    Geoffrey,
    Android’s installed base is most definitely NOT larger than iOS.  Where did you get that idea from?

    ComScore reported only 2 weeks ago that the current installed base for iOS was 59% larger than Android in the USA and 116% larger in Europe.

    Google announced at IO that 100 million Android devices had now been sold.  In contrast, Apple has sold 187 million iOS devices, the vast majority sold in the last 2 years.

    Even in new unit sales Android and iOS are still jockeying for the number one position with both shipping around 33 million units during the Christmas quarter.

    In fact, for the first time since Android began it’s break-neck growth, NPD’s most recent unit sales data shows that Android’s share of the US smartphone market dropped quarter-to-quarter from 53% to 50% in Q1 2011.  That’s a -6% growth rate for all those Android fans enamoured with “growth rate” percentages.

    In contrast Apple’s iPhone grew 115% to capture 28% of all smartphone sales in the USA thanks to the launch of the iPhone on Verizon.  With upcoming rumoured CDMA iPhone launches in China and possible availability on T-Mobile in the USA and the release of the iPhone 5 later in the year, this will only increase. 

    Just sayin.  :-)

    -Mart

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  3. Talking about development platforms. I’ve been working with the android tooling for a couple of weeks now. Compared to my previous experience with XCode and iOS, the android tool set is amazingly bad. Slow, buggy, difficult to control and use, with large chunks feeling more like very early beta code than a usable development platform. They have a lot of work to do to get anywhere near XCode.

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