Why do developers still prefer iOS to Android?


An article in The Guardian’s Apps Blog notes that it’s beenabout six months since Google’s Eric Schmidt predicted that developers wouldlikely start developing apps on Android before creating the iOS versions. Andthey note (if it wasn’t obvious to anyone paying attention), that that reallyhasn’t happened.

With Android devices outselling iOS devices fairlysubstantially at this point, you’d be completely justified in wondering why developers continue to preferdeveloping for the iPhone and iPad. It seems to go against common sense –shouldn’t you prefer to develop for the predominant platform after all? As itturns out, there are a few different reasons.

1) Follow the money. It's over at Apple.

While it’s true that a number of developers are not in thegame for cold hard cash, it’s probably safe to say that the majority wouldprefer to make money for their coding efforts. iOS had quite a head start indeveloping an infrastructure that allows content creators to earn money fromsales, thanks to the iTunes store. And you may remember that there was a periodwhere developing apps for Android meant releasing them for free, as the optionfor paid apps came a bit later.

The article at The Guardian’s blog also notes that despitethe fact that Google now has an infrastructure in place allowing developers tocharge for apps, the return is still much weaker than it is in the world ofiOS. In fact, one study pegged the return on Android at about 23 cents forevery dollar a developer would make on iOS. That’s not a particularly goodincentive to start with Android.

2) Android users doing like to pay for things.

It’s hard to say how much of this lower return has to dowith the fact that many developers were initially forced to make their appsavailable for free, and how much of it has to do with the open source nature ofAndroid, but it’s also clear that Android users are just less likely to pay forapps than users on iOS. After all, why spend money on an app when there’sanother out there that does something similar for free?

True, there are a number of Android users who are perfectlywilling to cough up money for apps. But there are far more people who find an appthat looks awesome, see a 99 cent price tag and say, “No thanks.”

That’s not to say that iOS users don’t bounce when they seea price tag. But there just seems to be something in the mindset of the typicaliOS user that makes them more willing to pull the trigger on an app purchase.

That’s probably no surprise when you consider that iPhoneusers are also willing to pay more for hardware that is, in some cases, lesscapable…it’s a lifestyle thing. Android users tend to be a bit more discerningbefore spending their money. That thriftiness can be a valuable trait…but notto Android developers.

3) Development is toofragmented on Android.

There was recently a photo going around that showed whyAndroid continues to be a huge frustration for developers: it’s just such afragmented space thanks to the many different variations of Android OS andhardware currently on the market. If you haven’t already seen the picture overat TechCrunch, it speaks volumes.

The big problem here is much the same problem that plaguedWindows development: there’s so much variety out there that it’s almostimpossible to test for all variations of hardware and software. There aremultiple versions of the Android operating system currently running on devicesin the hands of the public. That’s not even mentioning the three differentgenerations of the operating system continuing to be SOLD at retail today.

Add to that the fact that there are a large number ofhardware manufacturers releasing new Android phones and tablets, each with slightlydifferent hardware configurations.

By contrast, Apple has a very limited number of hardwarevariations, because each iPhone or iPad generation has a limited number ofdifferent models. Even if there were a number of different versions of iOS outin the wild – and it seems like that’s less of a concern, with iOS users tendingto update to the latest version fairly quickly – that still cuts the variabledown substantially.

So the bottom line is that developing for Android is muchharder thanks to the many different variations out there. A lot more can gowrong.

4) Developing forAndroid is like trying to hit a moving target.

It’s worth noting that many developers for iOS simply chooseto leave behind users on older versions of the OS. I’ve noted with dismay thatsome of my favourite iPad apps can’t be updated because the new versions aredesigned specifically for the newest version of iOS. But generally, that can befixed by taking a few minutes and updating the device to the latest version.

On Android that’s a trickier proposition, because there’s agood chance that the decision to upgrade to the newest version of the Androidoperating system isn’t quite in the hands of the user.

Consider how many users our there are STILL waiting to gettheir hands on Ice Cream Sandwich, because their device manufacturer stillhasn’t brought out the update. So, developing for Android can sometimes seem tobe like trying to hit a moving target, and releasing an app that’s onlycompatible with the newest and best version of Android comes with the risk ofalienating a number of users who just can’t update to the latest version yet.

All things considered, it’s pretty easy to see why EricSchmidt’s pronouncement hasn’t come to pass. If Android continues to outselliOS devices, it’s possible that the balance may eventually tip just throughsheer force of numbers in the Android column – even if you’re making less peruser, you may still be making more overall thanks to the larger number ofusers. But in the short term, the incentive doesn’t seem to be there.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers is a freelance writer, video producer and host based in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer at, where he was responsible for the conception, writing, production and editing of a number of web video shows, including Lab Rats, How Do I?, Status Update, The Noob, and more.

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