Blog Post

How we’ll know when Google Play really has caught up to the iOS App Store

Apple pioneered the modern mobile app market, made smartphone apps massively popular and created a new industry. But it’s not alone at the top anymore: Bloomberg Businessweek  posted a good feature Tuesday showing how in recent years Android(s GOOG) has largely caught up to iOS(s AAPL) in a number of important metrics. Through smart hires on the Google Play team, outreach to developers and improvements on the technical side of Android’s developer framework, mobile developers are focusing more on Android than ever before.

But there’s also some important stuff not mentioned.

The post notes that developers’ Android revenues are climbing rapidly (but it doesn’t actually say how far behind Android still is) and that the number of apps available is essentially even — in October both Google Play and iOS App Store claimed 700,000 apps for sale. As a result, several developers are quoted saying that while Apple’s App Store is still preferable for a variety of reasons, it’s the rate at which Android is growing that is catching their eyes.

While the ability for developers to make money from Android is indeed catching up to that of iOS, it’s still behind. And that’s a big metric: as BW notes in the post, iOS app sales still generate 3.5 times as much revenue as Android apps.

But most importantly, there were no specific examples of appmakers choosing or preferring Android in place of iOS — or launching on Android first instead of iOS. There is a reference to Ngmoco, maker of popular iPhone games like Rolando and Star Defense, “in some cases developing for Google first.” But a few paragraphs later, the CEO of Ngmoco says, “We treat Android and Apple the same. They are equal partners to us and we put equal amounts of resources toward both platforms.”

iPhoneappsThis is good news for Android, and is part of the shifting dynamic between the two leading mobile platforms over the last year. Big developers just can’t overlook Android, as Ngmoco, Major League Baseball, and the other makers of popular apps quoted in the story make clear.

However, the piece doesn’t really discuss smaller or unknown teams of developers. The iOS App Store is littered with examples of highly regarded apps that are still either picking iOS first or developing for both but prioritizing iOS — rolling features out there first, hiring more iOS developers, etc. It’s not universal though: A quick poll on Twitter brought up some good examples of mid-size developer teams doing the opposite and going Android first, like Out of Milk and Any.DO (the latter of which has received funding from Innovation Endeavors, whose co-founder is Google Chairman Eric Schmidt) and then building the app for iOS users.

But those two examples aren’t exactly megahits. Where is Android’s Angry Birds? Or its Instagram?

Yes, obviously the game and the photo app are both on Android now. But where’s Android’s killer, break-out (non-Google, for obvious reasons) app that explodes on the platform and leaves iOS users clamoring for it? Vine, for instance, is the buzzy mobile app of the moment, and as is par for the course for these things, it’s iOS only. This tweet (excuse the indelicate language) shows that when it comes to the biggest app launches, Android still isn’t first for a lot of the most important mobile companies.

When we start seeing the inverse of that tweet, and the big name developers — that don’t have any direct business interest in Google — are bypassing iOS in favor of Android, that’s when we’ll know that Android has reached true parity.

This post was updated at 3:25 p.m. PT. to note that Any.DO is backed by Innovation Endeavors, not Google Ventures, as previously stated.

24 Responses to “How we’ll know when Google Play really has caught up to the iOS App Store”

  1. Apple have just intro’ed Panorama pics – “Another” mini tablet is touted – Maybe an el cheapo i phone is coming? and the next big innovation seems to be an ios wristwatch? Pardon my massive yawn as I share my 3 year old panoramas from a Samsung via a 3 year old android watch and then review it on an excellent tablet that cost $150. The Apple wheels are spinning and not an original idea left in the place.

  2. Out of Milk and Any.DO? useless fart apps to most people.
    Vine? top fart app of the moment.

    Most of the apps used by people are from Google- Maps, Google Search, Gmail, because they’re really useful, rather than fart time-wasters

  3. S. Eric Rhoads

    Also, I do consider Bookish significant as it is a joint venture between 3 of the Big 5 publishers: Hachette, Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Announced in 2011 it has had ample time to produce an iOS app but chose to launch Android first.

    I honestly was amazed that Bookish launched as a desktop oriented property with little to no focus on mobile outside of a rough around the edges reader.

  4. S. Eric Rhoads

    Bookish launched as an Android only App w/ iOS “Coming Soon”. While that may have as much to do w/ the Kindle Fire as anything, it was the first time I have seen Android placed ahead of iOS from a significant new property.

  5. Tearfang

    My vote would go for the Andeoid keyboards swiftkey and swipe. I’ve seen a good number of articles requesting apple step up their keyboard game. The android experience is really much better wrt keyboards.

  6. Isaac Naor

    Most serious developers want to create an experience that is consistent across devices and Android simply doesn’t offer that due to their fragmentation issue.

    With iOS development, a dev can ensure an app will look and feel however s/he decides (with a smaller and more specific user-base) and can then release said app for Android users as well.

    The aforementioned, coupled with the fact that app revenue is typically higher with iOS apps are the main reasons apps are developed for iOS first and as a result, the benchmarks you (Erica) cited in this post will not be realized (until the fragmentation issue specifically is resolved).

  7. Tim Bray

    Another vote for Ingress.

    What’s interesting is that even though hundreds of thousands of people are prowling city streets at weird hours to play, it’s under the radar of the prognosticators and online-culturati because it’s Android-only and those folks live in iOS.

  8. You can develop for Android but you really won’t have that credibility until your app is on the iOS platform.

    Any.Do is a good app but it’s one of “many” good Task apps on iOS. Generally the quality of apps on iOS is believe to be superior than any other competitor offering. There is a lot junk on both stores but the cream of the crop on iOS just shines.

  9. Redwan Huq

    “But where’s Android’s killer, break-out (non-Google, for obvious reasons) app that explodes on the platform and leaves iOS users clamoring for it?”

    Answer = Ingress. Practically everyone I know with an iPhone is jealous.

  10. Redwan Huq

    You want specific example of apps being developed for Android first, here’s a short-list:

    – Any.Do (popular to-do list app)
    – Falcon Pro (best Twitter app out there)
    – Astrid (popular to-do list app)
    – Sega’s Virtua Tennis and Fallen Realms
    – Gameloft’s Backstab

    The list is rather long. And this doesn’t include apps that would ONLY work on Android such as custom launchers, widget collections, etc., which are also used by millions of Android users (according to downloads). Finally let’s the single most used apps only ANY platform…Google services, which are all developed on Android first (obviously).

  11. android fan

    what Android really needs is a better app market Experience. Its horrid in my opinion. App numbers, who releases what first doesn’t really matter to the masses. Most of the apps they’d ever want is on both platforms. For tablets its a different matter. It’s so hard to find good tablet apps.

  12. Either you need to change the title of the post or the conclusion, you can’t have it both ways! Developers favoring Android over iOS is not parity but it is them preferring Android over iOS …. for true parity they need to develop and release the app for both platforms simultaneously (not next week)

    • coder543

      You’re missing the point. Once things like he described happen, then at some point in the past, the Play Store reached parity, and in reality it would likely go both ways with each platform having unique killer apps with the other side screaming for them to come to such and such platform. That is parity.

      So yes, she can have it both ways.