Why Android’s Smartphone Marketshare Doesn’t Matter

12/12/2011

This past week at the Le Web conference, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was asked why he thought most mobile developers were choosing to develop for iOS first, and Android second. Schmidt replied, “Six months from now you’ll say the opposite. Because ultimately applications vendors are driven by volume. And the volume is favored by the open approach that Google is taking.” (See video here, answer is at 41 minutes)

I’m not sure if he actually believes that, or if it’s just what he has to say because he’s the CEO of Google. In either case, I think he’s wrong.

Chart: Smartphone Marketshare

Market Share

Schmidt is arguing that because there are more Android phones than iPhones, it only makes sense for developers to focus their efforts on the larger platform. He’s right in that Android currenty has almost twice the market share as iOS, and marketshare is a big part of the puzzle (just ask anyone thinking about building a Windows Phone app), but market share doesn’t tell the whole story.

The other metrics

I recently took a position as Creative Director at a Silicon Valley startup called Selligy, and we’re building an app for mobile sales professionals, so we’re in the middle of this dillema. Like many others, we’ve decided to focus on the iPhone first, and Android later. When we look at how the Apple vs. Google camps actually use their phones, we find a striking contrast. For example, here’s what the story looks like if you look at mobile browser statistics:

iOS users are using their smartphones to browse the web a lot more than their Android friends. The contrast is even greater when we look at how many apps each respective user is consuming:

Looking at this from an apps perspective, iOS is starting to look like Pac-Man, devouring all others with a whopping 75% App share to Android’s 10%.

The takeaway? Despite the lower market share of iOS, it’s a far more valuable ecosystem for developers.

So what is it about the iPhone that drives such high usage? It’s hard to say definitively, but I’ll offer a few thoughts:

  • iPhone owners value and will pay more for a premium device with a premium experience.
  • Android is often a users first Smartphone device, and they are still thinking of it as a phone first, and are not actively looking for apps to extend its functionality and features.
  • The iPhone App Store, while not without its problems, is far easier to use, and easier to discover and purchase new apps.
  • iPhone apps can offer users a superior experience in terms of animation, responsiveness, and smoothness. Android does not yet match iOS in these areas (compare, for example, Path on the iPhone and Android).

In my experience, Android users tend to fall into two camps: First, the hard core techy types who want control over every aspect of their devices, and therefore shun Apple’s closed system. And second users who are coming off of feature phones, who want something that does Facebook, and are swayed by all the marketing that shows Android devices to have superior features to the iPhone. They have no idea what LTE is, except the guy at the Verizon store says it’s awesome. In my experience, the guys selling phones in carrier stores and big-box stores aren’t big iPhone fans.

The ‘feature phone folks’ are more likely to be buying on price, and less likely to be interested in purchasing apps in the Android store, hence the lower metrics for Android apps, despite the greater market share.

He who controls the developers…

Beyond the economics of the two platforms, however, I believe developers will continue to choose iOS first for much longer than the next 6 months. Why is the iPhone more attractive as a developement platform? More developers use iPhones as their personal devices, and prefer to develop for the devices they actually use. The developer tools for iOS are easier to get into, and have a great support network. But perhaps the biggest reason is that with more android devices comes more devices!

Android has a serious problem with device fragmentation. Lots of different manufacturers building phones with countless different configurations, screen resolutions, features, and operating system versions. It’s nearly impossible for Android developers to test across all the different devices, and apps must make compromises to work properly across a variety of screen resolutions and hardware capabilities. iPhones are a known quantity, with a mere 4 models to support, and two screen resolutions to account for (that are the same ratio x/2), and at this point just two versions of the OS to test for (4.3 and 5). The stability and simplicity of the iOS ecosystem means developers can spend more time polishing their app so it’s incredibly fluid and fast instead of just making sure that it doesn’t crash on one of 50 different handsets.

What this means for startups

So if you’re thinking about writing an app, or building a startup in the mobile space, what does all this mean for you? Well, it depends of course. Android is a powerhouse platform, which is only going to continue to grow and dominate into the forseeable future, and it only makes sense to support it. Whether you support it first or not probably won’t be the biggest factor in whether or not you’re successful.

I recently discussed this with my friend Alex Muse, who’s the CEO of Big in Japan, makers of the popular ShopSavvy price comparison app. They started with Android, and later released iPhone (and Windows Phone) versions of their app. He told me that despite the larger numbers of Android devices (500,000 activations a day!), the iPhone version of ShopSavvy has an equal number of downloads each day to the Android version (and they’re the #18 app in the Android marketplace).

Bottom line: start with what you know, and grow from there. But recognize that iOS is probably going to remain the developer favorite for some time. My prediction? Two years, not six months. And by then Windows Phone 8 may be a contender, who knows!

Follow me on Twitter.

 

Further reading on the subject:

John Gruber (Daring Fireball)

MG Siegler 

Sources:

comScore Reports September 2011 U.S. Mobile Subscriber Market Share

Browser share: Net Market Share

App share: Mobile App Stores to Take In $3.91 Billion for 2011