The most recent comScore Smartphone Market Share Report reveals that Android is now the most widely-used mobile OS in the United States. So why is it that most legal app developers are either (1) testing the waters with; or (2) developing exclusively for iOS rather than Android?1
There are a few answers, but the most likely candidate in my opinion is the issue of fragmentation. Google campaigned hardware developers with the promise of a robust audience and an open-source operating system that would essentially be coded for them. Moreover, hardware vendors would have the option to tweak the OS and add their own flair.
That sounds great in theory, but the problem is that now we’re in a situation where we have one centralized app store, and close to a hundred different combinations of hardware and operating system variations.
Why is that? Because once Google releases a new flavor of Android, they keep exlusivity for a while for marketing purposes (e.g. they want a bump in Nexus sales). After it’s released to hardware developers, the third party companies need to decide whether they’re going to implement the upgrade, and if so, they have to set off to begin their own development cycle on the new operating system.
With iOS, Apple encourages developers to test their apps on previous iterations of the iPhone/iPod/iPad, but generally speaking there are only two or three tests that a developer really need be concerned about (iPad vs. iPad 2, Original iPhone v. iPhone GS v. iPhone 4, etc.). And even there, Apple threw down the gauntlet and decided that future iOS upgrades won’t be compatible with the original iPhone, making it even easier for developers to develop and test their iOS apps.
On Android, developers have to consider whether their app will run on HTC’s Nexus One (Android 2.3.3) or LG’s Optimus 2X (Android 2.2) or Samsung’s M910 Intercept (Android 2.1) or Motorola’s Droid X (Android 2.2). And the list goes on and on due to Android’s success. Testing on a few versions of an OS isn’t difficult (it’s done with Windows all the time), but because the actual operating system is manipulated by most vendors, adequate testing quickly becomes an unwieldy proposition.
Google is clearly concerned with fragmentation as evidenced by a very new policy that licensee edits to the Android OS must be approved by Google. From the standpoint of ameliorating the fragmentation issue, it’s a step in the right direction. Whether and to what extent they anger third party developers remains to be seen. I’ve heard rumors that Facebook is fairly upset with the change.
In my opinion, is Android doomed? No. As a general rule, is it easier for developers to churn out bug-free iOS apps? Probably, yes.
With that said, the BarBri iPhone app has been out for a long time now. If they weren’t working on an Android app at this stage in the game, I would be more than a little concerned.