Whether you have just initiated your startup journey or own a well-established business, whether you own a single-product/service or a multiple offerings venture, chances are you want to build an application to support your business or to be the face of your business. It’s imperative for businesses to own an app in today’s marketplace since that’s where the users are – that’s where the outreach and engagement and loyalty happens.
However, once you decide that you need a native app, based on your business needs, the question arises: which operating system to develop your application for – Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android? While there are other mobile platforms, but majority of app landscape is owned by these two giants. It’s anyway too much of effort, cost and time involved in developing an app for a single platform – let alone two or three or more.
Deciding the right platform to build your app on depends on a lot of factors, such as your business needs, customer base, reach, market strategy and more. Some of the factors, which can help you make an informed decision, are discussed below –
App Landscape / Market share
As mentioned above, Apple and Google take up more than 90 percent market share in the smartphone category. Volume-wise, Android now dominates the market share at 65 percent, followed by iOS at 32 percent. Other 3 percent is co-owned by Windows, Blackberry, Symbian, Java ME and others.
Logically so, most brands prefer to build their apps on either or both Android and iOS. While a majority of developers target one platform over the other, while others target both iOS and Android simultaneously.
Again, the decision boils down to the user demographics and their usage pattern and behavior in conjunction with other factors.
Understanding your target audience and the corresponding user demographic leads the way to decide the ideal platform to build your app on. If you already have a base of audience on your website, you should be able to use a web analytics tool to see and breakdown of incoming traffic and determine which platform users are using to access your website.
Once you determine the platform your major audience segment is on, you can also breakdown further upon the region/country they belong to. Some advanced analytical tools may also be able to capture more data for you to turn into useful insights.
Ultimately, you want to choose the platform with highest visibility or with highest revenue generating probability.
Revenues vs. visibility
The question to ask here is: do you want to reach out to a wider audience or do you want to mint more money?
While there is no doubt that Android offers most visibility, it doesn’t always signify higher revenues. Almost all market surveys indicate that iOS users are more likely to shell out the money for app purchases as well as in-app purchases after they have installed an application.
Again, user demographics play a significant role here. If you want to target a global audience or are focused towards APAC region, Android seems like a logical choice; whereas in Northern America and EMEA region, you would get a larger base on iOS.
Another signifier is the monetization model of your app. Apple’s default business model has been crystal clear – the users find an app and purchase it for a small fee. Apple gets 30% of the money spent by the user, while the rest goes to the developer. The great thing about this model is that the revenue per download is higher. However the problem arises with whether a user would like to pay upfront without recommendations or demos to build their trust upon.
This is where the Android model steps in – users can download the app for free and interact with it as much as they want. However, either various functionalities of that app need a paid upgrade or your app has ads – either videos, or modals that need to be dismissed – which help you get revenue per view/click. If the user wants to avoid the nuisance of ads or they’re really interested in the functionalities which are not available, they can upgraded to the paid version of the app.
iOS apps may bring more upfront revenue to a business but Android apps’ monetization models can provide the same outcome over time. Most of the popular apps in the world are free with revenue being generated through in-app advertisements, in-app purchases, upgrades and fermium or subscription models.
Ideally, you should craft a strategy that balances visibility and revenues – the more visibility you get, the greater your chances of monetization.
For example, WhatsApp is available for free for the first year on the Android platform to gain massive traction and is at $0.99 on the iOS to bring in upfront revenues.
Android’s operating system has more than 7 versions; iOS only 4. Needless to say, this discrepancy makes it developing for Android harder than developing for iOS. Understanding what features are supported by the types of operating systems your application intends to leverage would help you target users with a certain range of handsets. For instance, if your app integrates AirDrop feature of iOS7, it will only be available to users having iPhone 5 and later launched devices. Similarly, features available in the latest OS of Android, which can run only on high-end phones such as the Galaxy S or the Nexus series, will not be available to those phones on the lower end of the spectrum.
In general, you should develop, test and maintain either a mobile app that will work flawlessly for 80% of all your potential users.
For iOS, most users are on up-to-date versions of the OS, making it easier to form a decision. You either develop your app on the newest version, or you build it and test it for the top two versions and reach most of your users.
For Android, it poses a problem since Android users display a poor adoption rate. This increases the work for developers who have to build, test and support at least 5 or more version of operating systems at any given moment to reach maximum potential users. For any business launching an app on Android, this increases the operational cost of maintenance and updating the app over time. Simply put, the uncontested winner here is iOS, and that’s by a long a shot.
Owing to the device fragmentation, developing for Android takes longer by default. Similarly, the cost of mobile app development comes down to the scope and complexity of the project; the larger and more complex a project is, the more it is going to cost.
Android’s technology stack provides infinite flexibility, whereas iOS offers a restrictive yet easy to adapt development environment. Testing is usually where time (and hence, cost involved) is more imbalanced.
There is nothing inherent to iOS or Android development that makes one more expensive than the other. However, one engineer kept track of all the code written when building the same app on both platforms and showed that he had to write approximately 40% more code for Android than for iOS.
Release and Updates
Despite the device fragmentation and comparatively longer and costlier development cycles, Android is a clear winner when it comes to the release, updates and approval processes. For iOS, the release, updates and approval process takes between 1-3 weeks. On the other hand, android apps typically take a day or two to get approved and updates can be pushed within hours.
By comparison, publishing an app on Android platform is an effortless process. You simply deploy your app to your Google Play store and it becomes available for downloads, usually within hours of your deployment. Secondly, Google Play allows you to update your app multiple times a day should there be critical issues you need to fix. Finally, Google Play allows you to publish an alpha and beta version to Google Play – that way you can actually publish your app on Google Play and do live testing on it, fix issues, and then launch it to the general public.
In strike contrast, publishing an app on iOS is next to a nightmare. . It requires various levels of approval from the iOS team with bureaucratic reviews with the app deployment taking up to one week. For most businesses, it’s impossible to anticipate more than 2-3 deployments per month.
Moreover, Android’s options for staggered releases wins the battle by providing companies with the flexibility to roll out and test their apps and new features to a subset of users before rolling out the release to all customers.
A staggered release allows you to deploy the app gradually to various percentages of users, observe their interactions, and then increase the percentage of users who can access it over time. For example, a new version of the app is released to only 5% of the users, then gradually increased to 25%, 50%, 75%, and finally 100% of the users. This ensures any problems only impact a small amount of users instead of all the users of their app. While Google Play offers the option for staggered releases; iOS does not.
iOS, Android or Both
While it is ideal for most of the businesses to have their app on both iOS and Android platforms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to absolutely pick both. Moreover, it’s the norm (and a wise option) to pick one platform initially to build and launch your app and test it heavily, before developing your app for second platform.
While choosing only one platform to build your app upon, most of the developers opt for iOS owing to the ease of development, and higher revenues. Recently, a shift has been seen towards Android-first or Android-only development as well, owing to the growing penetration of Android handsets in global market and a comfortably easy release and updates policy.
Developing your app on both platforms simultaneously can help you reach up to 97 percent of global smartphone market, but it might not be a smart business move. Mobile app development has a methodical approach to follow – identify business needs, create wireframes, design high fidelity comps, perform user testing, develop the app based on final comps, perform quality analysis, release the app, monitor the performance of your app, and then iterate based on analytics.
Any deviations from this process often result in a chaotic loss of productivity, time and money, user confusion and loss of traffic and revenues. Building your app in parallel on both platforms might result in double work on post-release iterations and fixing bugs, as well as involve more cost and time.
Another reason to pick only one platform initially is to maintain and reduce churn. Customer retention is a critical issue in both Android and iOS. According to Quettra research, apps on Android lose 77% of their customer base in three days after an app is downloaded, and a staggering 95% of their users within 3 months. Building on both platforms simultaneously only to result in a churn will be a huge loss to incur.
Strategically, you should build your app on Android or iOS first, gather user feedback, collect analytical insights, make required changes and bring your app to a stable state where your app’s critical flows have been heavily tested and approved by users. This would reduce your work when you built for the second platform.
For instance, Instagram launched the iOS app first and improved upon all the nuances before developing it for Android.
Once you have a stable built on your first platform, you can also use a cross-platform framework such as Appcelerator or, Sencha Touch or, Phonegap to limit the amount of code your developers have to write for both versions of an app.
Nevertheless, you must practice caution while using above mentioned tools, or steer clear of them if your app needs a number of native functionality or has a lot of data to manage.
Native apps take a lot of work, time and money. Invest wisely.
Making the final decision
Last but not the least, your decision to build for iOS or Android first depends on what works for your business. Don’t get influenced by media reports which prefer one platform over the other. Get as much information about your customer as possible to determine which platform is right for you to start with. Go where your customers are.