iOS vs Android: How to Choose a Platform

July 19, 2016 - 11 minutes read

android vs apple

Choosing a platform isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most important decisions faced by early-stage startups. Depending on the services your app offers, choosing the right platform can mean the difference between success and failure — no matter how talented your mobile app development team.

We’ve guided hundreds of startups through the planning, development, and launch of mobile apps on both the Apple App Store and Google Play. In this post we’ll be sharing some of the insights we’ve gained along the way, taking a close look at the factors app developers should consider when deciding whether to pursue iOS or Android for their mobile app idea.

In this post we’ll share some of the insights we’ve gained along the way, taking a close look at the factors app developers should consider when deciding whether to pursue iOS or Android for their mobile app idea.

Short answer: iOS apps generally translate to higher revenues

iphone developer

For the majority of mobile apps targeting audiences in the US and Europe, iOS has more to offer as a starting point. User traction tends to be higher, and as a general rule Apple users come from a higher tax bracket and have more disposable income to spend on software and in-app purchases than their Android counterparts. Recent market analysis shows that iOS users spend more on apps than Android users — almost four times as much, to be specific.

While Android has a huge market share (around 80 percent) and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, we’ve noticed that revenues from iOS launches tend to be higher. User churn also presents less of a problem with iOS apps, partly due to the “curated” feel of the Apple App Store. The users stick around for longer, and they’re more willing to pay for useful services.

Scoping out your target market

apple users

That being said, the number one factor for mobile app developers to consider when choosing between iOS and Android is what devices your target market uses.

For specialized services, it’s often possible to conduct polls or market research into platform density statistics. If you and your mobile app development team find out that 90 percent of your target market uses Android, starting with Android for your mobile app is a no-brainer, regardless of your feelings about the platform. You have to go where your customers are.

Another important point for Boston iPhone app developers to consider is what countries you’re targeting. While iOS holds a big market share in the US and Europe respectively, Android pulls the trump card in Asia, South America, and many other parts of the connected world. While Android audiences tend to be smaller spenders, marketing useful apps to lower-income populations with cheaper phones and limited 3G access can have huge rewards — particularly for banking and financial apps.

App startups targeting Asian audiences are advised to consider Android first.

App startups targeting Asian audiences are advised to consider Android first.

Therefore, apps and startups targeting global audiences — particularly in Asia — should strongly consider Android. While the spending habits of the audience may not be as great, for the right service access to the bigger audience can make a huge difference. With Facebook and Google pumping billions into expanding Internet access in underserved populations worldwide, the smartphone-enabled in developing nations are sure to become a huge demographic over the next decade.

Development time

ux design team

Instagram may seem more or less the same on iOS and Android, but any mobile app development company will be quick to explain that the code making either app tick is completely different under the hood.

Android is written in Java, a language that’s known to be somewhat more “wordy” than Apple’s Swift programming language. In addition to taking more code to get the job done, Android emulators also tend to be somewhat slower than iOS emulators, which also contributes to slower app development times.

A recent study by the iOS and Android app development team at Infinum Inc found that Android development times averaged around 30 percent higher for Android builds — with much of that time going to layout design (Android uses XML in contrast to the WYSIWYG system in Apple’s Xcode) and debugging.

While Android development frameworks have been quickly catching up to Apple’s Xcode environment over the past couple years, Android is overall more time-consuming for experienced mobile app developers.

Outlying considerations: how “disruptive” is your app idea?

Disruptive is good — law-breaking, not so good.

Disruptive is good — law-breaking, not so good.

While Apple clearly has a lot of factors working in its favor from a mobile app developer’s perspective, it is at the end of the day a closed system; apps with functions like ad-blocking, torrenting, and other useful (but non-profitable) uses tend to get rejected from the Apple app ecosystem. If the Apple App Store doesn’t approve your app, you’re locked out of the iOS operating system. Period.

This is where Android comes in. Getting into the Google Play store is overall much easier than getting into the Apple App Store. The rules are less stringent, and the review process less finicky. On the negative side, this results in a cluttered app ecosystem with no shortage of malware lurking in the shadows. On the plus side, Android hosts a thriving market in launcher apps and other system-altering services that aren’t technically possible in a closed-source system like Apple.

Recap: pros and cons of Android vs iOS

Android

Pros:

  • Bigger audience (80%)
  • Huge market share outside US/Europe
  • Open platform

Cons:

  • Lower paid app revenues
  • Longer development time

Apple

Pros:

  • Higher app revenues on average
  • Curated, clean app ecosystem
  • Streamlined development process (Swift, Xcode)
  • High user traction in US/Europe

Cons:

  • Smaller audience (20%)
  • Closed-source platform

Why not just build both?

Evernote is a perfect example of the opportunities for multi-platform apps... as well as the high cost of maintaining them.

Evernote is a perfect example of the opportunities for multi-platform apps… as well as the high cost of maintaining them.

In some cases, evenly-split audience share and confusion about platform pros and cons will make it feel impossible to pick the right platform. So why not build out Android and iOS at the same time and launch all at once?

While this strategy might seem obvious, consider first that even huge companies like Facebook and Twitter generally choose to stagger their development process, launching new apps and features over periods of weeks or months. Facebook’s Instant Articles feature, for example, took several weeks to reach Android users. The releases were even staggered after the US launch, with iOS preceding the Android versions in India and Asia.

The reason for this is simple: being nimble is the single most important trait for any startup in the erratic and unpredictable mobile app economy.

Regardless of whether your startup launches on iOS or Android, concentrating on a single platform makes is much easier to pivot and tweak features once the data starts pouring in from real-world use.

Making changes and updates to apps across multiple platforms is notoriously tricky, even for established mobile app companies. Limiting your launch to a single platform enables you to make real-time changes to your product in response to user needs, fine-tuning the feature set and functionality before growing out to a broader market.

Android vs. Apple: you say tomato, I say tomato

At the end of the day, the experience offered by Android and Apple is remarkably similar. While Android has traditionally been the underdog when it comes to app revenues, Google’s backing of the platform and increased adoption in developed countries thanks to initiatives like Google Fi are sure to bring the market share even closer to 50-50.

Regardless of how the battle between Android and Apple plays out over the coming years, choosing the right platform for your mobile app need not be a headache. Once you’ve figured out where your customers are, the key to mobile app success is simply meeting them where they’re most comfortable. Whether that platform happens to be Android or Apple, mobile app developers always find a way to bring problem-solving apps to the users that need them most.

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