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

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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 has largely caught up to iOS 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.

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