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4: Should you Build your Mobile App for iOS or Android?

Published January 5, 2018
Run time: 00:14:51
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A common way to cut down on mobile app development costs is to only build out one platform at a time. Tim and Rob explain the advantages to building on either iOS or Android, and provide tips for choosing which platform is right for your product.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Which platform tends to bring in the most money
  • Which platform tends to attract the most users
  • The reason "fragmentation" can play a role in your decision to develop for Android

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, who builds mobile software solutions for the on-demand economy. Learn more at http://jmg.mn.

Recorded November 2, 2017
Edited by Jordan Daoust

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at mobile app development. I'm Tim Bornholdt.

Rob Bentley 0:06
And I'm Rob Bentley. Time to get down and dirty.

Tim Bornholdt 0:23
So today's episode is going to cover which platform you should build your mobile app for if you're starting from square one.

Rob Bentley 0:31
And we're talking about iOS and Android mainly.

Tim Bornholdt 0:34
Yeah. We'll get into why here in a little bit. We figured we'd start this episode off because so much of the reasoning why you would choose to develop for one platform or the other comes down to market share. So I figured we could go over the numbers a little bit so you can kind of see worldwide, as of at least this recording, I mean, we're talking today, November 2, 2017. The numbers change all the time, but as far as right now, a lot's changed between now and eight years ago.

Rob Bentley 1:02
Yeah, definitely.

Tim Bornholdt 1:03
You know, eight years ago, Blackberry was the big dog. I guess, more like 10 years ago, Blackberry was the smartphone player, and then there's Windows as well. But then iOS came out and pretty much dominated right away. And then Android all of a sudden just shot out of nowhere and took over everything. And that's kind of where we stand today is, when you hear market share, I guess you hear it in two ways. There's market share for new device sales, and then for active, what people are actually using out in the real world. So we want to cover what those metrics look like.

Rob Bentley 1:36
And definitely worldwide, Android is the major player right now.

Tim Bornholdt 1:40
Yeah, absolutely. In terms of selling new devices, Android's 80 to 85% of all device sales worldwide, which is just insane.

Rob Bentley 1:49
And everything else you can pretty much attribute to be on iOS.

Tim Bornholdt 1:53
Right. iOS is about 15 to 20% and then the remaining. So like blackberry used to have the vast majority of the market share. Now they are selling phones that you can just attribute to a rounding error in terms of the worldwide amount of phones that are sold. And Windows Phone as well. It used to be something when we started our business that you needed to pay attention to Windows Phone, maybe we should consider building for. But then nowadays, it's virtually negligible for developing for anything but Android and iOS. We kept our eye on it.

Rob Bentley 2:27
But a lot of people I talk to that either had Windows Phone or were thinking about getting it stopped because they said there weren't any apps for it.

Tim Bornholdt 2:35
Yeah, it's a huge chicken and egg problem, which we'll cover on a future episode of Constant Variables. So that's kind of the, at least for new device market, active cell phone usage for smartphones. It's a similar story if we're talking worldwide, you're looking at about 75% of all people that are, whatever phone they're currently using at any given time is an Android phone and 25% of those users are using an iOS device. And then there's a small, again, fraction going to everything else, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, everything else.

Rob Bentley 3:10
But then when you talk about just the United States, if that's your market, the share is a lot more even right around 50/50. And it's usually one out does the other and then the next quarter, it's reversed.

Tim Bornholdt 3:20
Exactly. And that's not just the US that's really most developed nations that that from the research that we've seen, it's, you know, Europe, I mean, England, Germany, Australia, those kind of countries. But then if you're talking about developing nations, you're looking more at at a bigger shared towards Android devices. So that being said, we're all kind of now on the same page with what users generally worldwide at a very broad level, what kind of devices they use. Now, when it comes to your business and your app, how do you decide, Rob, what platform to start developing for?

Rob Bentley 3:59
Well it really depends again, where your users live, but also what your plan is to monetize the app.

Tim Bornholdt 4:05
Right. And really the big thing is just your users. That's like the only thing that matters at this point in the game is what platform are your users using. That's the platform you need to build for.

Rob Bentley 4:17
Right. If you're looking for a free app model where you need to hit a lot of users, you're going to want to target Android. Also, if your monetization strategy depends on app retention, Android is doing better than iOS, at least right now in that category. But conversely, if your monetization strategy depends upon people actually paying somehow to use your app, you might want to go iOS.

Tim Bornholdt 4:42
Exactly. If you're talking about what platform to develop for for your app, you really just need to figure out where your users are at and how they're going to be paying you. From our research, where your users live really matters. So if you're in, like we said a developed nation, the US, the UK, Australia, consider starting with iOS first and building out that platform and then moving into Android. However, if your customers are more international, if you're looking at Southeast Asia or Africa, anything like that, you might want to consider starting with Android and then switching into iOS afterwards.

Rob Bentley 5:16
Or even if you just want to hit as many users in the whole world is possible, and you can only go with one platform right now, start with Android.

Tim Bornholdt 5:23
Yeah, definitely. So the other way to really tell what platform you should develop for is just straight up ask your potential users. What do they use? Get a general feel, and you'll probably see similar numbers to what we're talking about. It's probably going to be 50/50 if you're talking about companies in the United States, users in the United States, using your app. It's going to be in that 50/50 mix. So then really, it's kind of a coin toss.

Rob Bentley 5:47
And then of course, if you know the demographics of your target market, there's a ton of research on demographically categorizing people and what smartphones they use too so that can be a help to just googling around for it honestly.

Tim Bornholdt 5:59
Yeah. Absolutely. So the other two factors that you might want to consider with this is not just related to your users, but related to other things. So one of which is your development budget. So building for each platform is an independent task. Especially if you come to a shop like The Jed Mahonis Group. We are fully native development, which means we write out code from scratch for each platform. So if you're talking about building for iOS and building for Android, you're talking about building two different apps. And that's double, roughly, your development costs.

Rob Bentley 6:32
The other thing you need to think about too, will be after you get the app developed, how are you going to support it? And what is that going to look like? Android is typically harder to support, not only because of the number of devices that are currently active, but also because the user base and the devices are so fragmented. Usually you have to support a lot earlier versions than you would with iOS.

Tim Bornholdt 6:56
Yeah. And when you're looking at iOS, if you take a look at the total number of iOS devices that were ever made, I mean we're probably, maybe into the hundreds, definitely less than 200 unique individual iOS devices, including iPads and iPod Touches that would be able to potentially run your app. Moving to Android, you're talking about, at least in the six figures.

Rob Bentley 7:20
Yeah hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Tim Bornholdt 7:22
Yeah, it's got to be up in the millions. I didn't look before we recorded, but it's got to be in that range. And you're talking about not an insignificant number of those devices actively using your app. If you hit any kind of scale, we have some apps that have that kind of million monthly active user number. And the number of Android devices that are currently running that app are in the at least middle 10 thousands range, like you know, 50-60,000 like unique device configurations that we need to... or that's just straight devices. That's not even thinking that some of those devices are running Android Kit Kat. Some of them are running Lollipop, and the fragmentation issue, which is what they call that, is an issue on Android. And that will weigh a factor into should you start with iOS? Or should you start with Android?

Rob Bentley 8:09
Feature wise, there used to be a lot bigger difference between the two platforms. But what we've seen is, it's kind of, one will come out with a new feature on their phone, and then the other will copy it in their next phone and that'll kind of leapfrog each other. So it's kind of six and one, half dozen of the other as far as just phone features right now.

Tim Bornholdt 8:27
Yeah, I mean, there's something to be said about... there's some advantages, like accessibility is still something that I think iOS has an edge on Android for. Sometimes developing for like the Bluetooth hardware can be a little bit easier on iOS, again because you just have less configuration that you need to worry about with supporting other devices. So if you're doing an Internet of Things application, it might be easier to start on iOS, but then again, dealing with external hardware components and the lockdown iOS environment might mean that you want to start with Android first. So the advice that we're talking about here is really like a general purpose app, if we're talking about a general purpose app that doesn't really tie into any device specific things. Where it's like Apple released AR kit, so we're talking about building an augmented reality app. Maybe it's easier on iOS these days than Android. But listen to this show 12 months from now, I'm sure Google's working on their frameworks to make AR on Google on Android a lot easier. So things are constantly evolving, you really have to just see what kind of app you're building and see what kind of features those platforms have. But to Rob's point, this day and age, the platforms are getting pretty mature. And there's not a whole lot of like whiz bang, totally new features that you need to worry about. So that's not a huge consideration, but it's something to pay attention to while you're deciding which platform to build for.

Rob Bentley 9:55
And there's a lot of things we could cover with that but we can let you know if you wanted to ever reach out to us talk and about it specifically for whatever you need.

Tim Bornholdt 10:03
Good plug. So, I guess, really, Rob, what does it come down to? Should we build for iOS? Or should we build for Android?

Rob Bentley 10:11
Well, usually it is good to start with one platform, when you're just getting your idea out there and testing it and making sure it gets traction in the marketplace. Which one, like we've said probably a dozen times already, it really just depends on doing some market research, figuring out who your customers are and what device they use.

Tim Bornholdt 10:28
Yeah, so looking at, I should definitely build for iOS or I definitely should build for Android. From what we've seen, if you are really trying to make the most money off your sales of your app, whether that's through a subscription or a freemium or paymium type of deal, iOS is where you should focus. If you're building like a retail app as well, people tend to spend more money inside iOS devices than they do on Android devices. Also, if you're located inside the US or inside a developed nation, you probably would have a better shot with making money on the iOS side of things than on the Android side of things. Conversely, if you're trying to reach a very international audience, or if you're trying to reach as many people as you possibly can through one platform, then Android is absolutely the way to go for that regard.

Rob Bentley 11:23
And ultimately, if you're able to make both work, then you'll pretty much be able to hit every single smartphone user in the world.

Tim Bornholdt 11:31

Rob Bentley 11:31
So that's the better way to go. But what we're just discussing is if your budget only allows for one platform over the other.

Tim Bornholdt 11:37
Right, I mean, if you're a large brand, or if you have an app idea that has a lot of competition in both, or like your main competition is already in both places, if your kinda the cost to play in the space, if you have to, then you have to. And also like Rob said, if you're trying to target everybody, then you have to be on both if you want to hit everybody. So, final thoughts. One thing I wanted to bring up was the Instagram approach, which it's a little dated now, but it's still relevant, I think in 2017, moving into 2018 here. When you are Instagram, basically, when they started out, they were iOS only. And a lot of people probably don't remember this, because that's how fast tech moves. But for a while, honestly, Instagram, up until one week before they were announced that they were purchased by Facebook, actually, they hadn't even announced that they were going to do an Android app. And people had been asking, we need our Android app, we need our Android app. And they're like, we don't have any plans at this time. Because all they were doing was focusing on the experience that they were delivering on iOS. And that really comes down to perfecting the filters, perfecting the system itself, making sure that they were able to scale and handle the amount of users that they had and keeping it contained to one platform. It really paid off for them. And I think it's still a model that a lot of companies pursue and even, Rob, we were talking before the podcast about how we do it as a development team. You pretty much, like we build our apps, we focus on iOS, perfect that, at least that little bit of the app and then have Android come in after and finish it.

Rob Bentley 13:14
Yeah, we'll start off just building one platform out, showing that to our clients. If they approve of it, then we'll have the Android side catch up to that usually, so that we can make mistakes and go through iterations and different design tweaks on just one platform instead of having to go through all of that and trying to save money that way.

Tim Bornholdt 13:31
Exactly. It's like we said, it's really expensive to build for both platforms at the same time. So if you are budget conscious, which everybody is, start with just one platform and build out from there, and whether it's iOS or Android, we don't care. Really what we want is the best experience for your users. So it's something that while you are in there conceding plans of building an app, it's something to bear in mind which platform is going to make you the most money and which platform is going to set you up for the best chance of success.

Rob Bentley 14:02
I think that's all we have for today.

Tim Bornholdt 14:03
All right, we did it. Show notes for this episode can be found at ConstantVariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter. Rob is @ScottMahonis. Today's episode was edited by the amazing Jordan Daoust. This episode was brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group who builds mobile software solutions for the ondemand economy. Learn more at JMG.mn.