I certainly don’t hide my preference for Android over iOS, but that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t like Apple products. I prefer an open platform, with all its risks and shortcomings, over the walled garden model. Despite the recent malware scare that’s making headlines, the Android platform has passed palm and is now the #1 smartphone in the U.S.
Some may argue that Android’s success is because the phones are cheaper, easier to get, or that they’re on more carriers. Regardless, the open platform’s proliferation is real; and the reasons for its successes are likely somewhere between the cheers of its supporters and the excuses of its detractors.
However, in the mobile space the Apple iPhone / iPad are still the #1 target for mobile developers. Here’s a list of of the top 5 reasons why I think this is so. How will manufacturers of Android devices and phones overcome these? Do they need to?
#5 App Store Superiority
Right now, the Apple App Store is just better and more well executed, despite it’s shortcomings. Despite challenges with Apple’s inconsistent and esoteric approval processes, the apps that get approved are consistently quality and seamlessly blend with the user experience.
Additionally, there’s only one Apple App Store, while in the Android space we have more than the Marketplace, but we have various Manufacturer’s marketplaces (Archos, for example) with Amazon about to dilute the space even more. (note to self, maybe I should write a marketplace abstraction app where we could see apps in all marketplaces in one place!).
#4 Developer Support (aka The Feedback Loop)
The developers target the Apple platform because of it is the #1 app target and that’s where the money is to be made. The Apple platform is the #1 app target because of developer support. The industry makes tools to make creation of apps on the #1 platform easier. So now more developers target the Apple platform.
I believe this cycle will eventually collapse. In fact, I think we’re already seeing the beginning of this process. Apple’s recently fee demands for subscription content have caused quite a bit of complaining. However, you may have noticed a new ‘book’ section in the Marketplace. How long before we see subscriptions?
Additionally, Apple won’t approve apps that are poorly written or for other reasons. It’s their garden, they decide what goes in. So, they act as sort of a quality control agent that doesn’t exist in the Android Marketplace (today). As an Android developer, I’d pay a submission fee to have my app QA’d and checked by Google in exchange for more marketplace visibility in a heartbeat.
Right now, though, the App app store has a higher percentage of quality apps.
#3 Cult of Mac (aka the coolness factor)
Apple is one heck of a marketing company. Apple has successfully marketed their consumerism as counter culture and somehow outside the status quo; and it is. Apple’s walled garden market philosophy capitalized on what many people found lacking in the windows space (as well as in the formerly niche smartphone market). Apple’s tight reigns protect their great user experience. In the end, that’s Apple’s differentiator. Apple moved into the mobile space and did so in a big way; pushing the carriers aside as the ultimate authority on what goes on the device and bringing about a faux democratization of mobile development to the market. Handango is nothing like it used to be.
Remember when the iPhone was considered an iPod with a phone built in? Either way, it was released and the silhouettes danced; and we gobbled it up!
Apple’s customers and fans religiously evangelize everyone else on behalf of this large corporate entity. To the point that even the pope weighs in. Seriously, check out that link to techcrunch. The “cult of mac” is nothing new, but I find it surprising how the cult of mac has never been more slickly marketed and subsequently adopted by counter culture proponents. It all seems counterintuitive to me, but perhaps that’s why I don’t get it. However, very few mac fanatics will admit or even acknowledge how some in their ranks can be unbearably snobbish. My Apple fanatic friends are going to give me grief on this on Facebook; hopefully they don’t go about unwittingly proving my point!
The end result is the popularity of the platform will receive the same benefits other platforms receive. See #4.
#2 Consumer confidence in apps worth sharing
Another example of slick marketing is the catch phrase “there’s an app for that”. IPhone users revel in the culture carefully crafted by Apple of app “one-upmanship”. Finding the latest app seems to have replaced being the first to see the latest blockbuster. It’s certainly less expensive! Download app, install, tweet, receive kudos from social circle, repeat.
Discovering a cool app (free or paid) and sharing it with your friends is both enjoyable and satisfying at the same time (and profitable it seems). Perhaps it feeds some primal, lizard part of our brain. A hunter / gatherer type of thing?
Socials apps benefit directly from such behavior. Building on #3, as the cult of mac spreads so does the popularity of apps targeting the platform. This is the secondary feedback loop.
I personally find discovery of cool Android apps a lot of fun, but it becomes harder every day with so much junk in the marketplace (See #5 and #4). Also, we’ll see how successful Apple is at keeping Android Malware stories in the news cycle.
Apple’s tight approval process means when a user downloads an app from the Apple app store, they can be confident that the app will be stable, relevant to its description, and consistent with the user experience. Granted, the apps may not have the opportunity to be as flexible as an Android app; but it’s all about the user experience.
Happy users = happy recommendations = happy purchases = happy developer’s pocketbook.
You don’t have to go to a seminar or read the latest entrepreneur’s power blog to grasp this.
#1 Consistency of platform
All of this is possible because of the walled garden Apple has created. There are only so many platforms of iPhone you have to code for.
In the Android world, we have a plethora of devices with different screen resolutions. Additionally, we’ve gone through a fairly accelerated release cycle. From 1.6 (which is the lowest platform I target) to 2.3 and soon Android 3.0. Thankfully, Google is keeping the API fairly consistent.
However, it’s just easier to target a large percentage of the smartphone market with limited platform fragmentation. In other words, its easier to write an app for the iPhone that will run on x percentage of the market than write for the Android platform and hope your UI renders properly. I’m not saying it’s better one way or the other; but it is easier.
If you’ve been in the mobile space for a while, you recognize that Apple capitalized on a market that was so fragmented that consistent delivery of working apps was very difficult. As long as Google avoids the same mistakes Sun made with J2ME, I believe the Android platform should eventually dominate this market; even from an application standpoint.
If anything, I believe the company with the most to lose in the long term is Microsoft.