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