According to comScore, iOS mobile devices captured 25% of the market in February 2011. That's up only slightly from November 2010, despite the introduction of the iPhone on Verizon's network.
On the other hand, iOS' biggest competitor (in the eyes of many), Google's Android, has grown 7% since November 2010, and now commands 33% of the smart phone subscriber market in the United States.
As venture capitalist Fred Wilson sees it, this is solid proof that everyone should be focusing on Android over iOS.
In a post on his blog, he wrote, "as I've been saying for several years now, I believe the mobile OS market will play out very similarly to Windows and Macintosh, with Android in the role of Windows. And so if you want to be in front of the largest number of users, you need to be on Android."
Not surprisingly, his posted sparked a vibrant debate. Should Android be the mobile platform of choice for developers going forward? Or is Wilson drinking too much of the Android kool-aid (or not enough of the iOS kool-aid)?
Android's growth is impressive, and for many developers, Android is going to be increasingly difficult to ignore. But Wilson's core argument is as wrong as his post is self-congratulatory. Here's why.
Market share doesn't matter
Notwithstanding the fact that Android versus iOS probably shouldn't be looked at right now as a zero sum game, as I've discussed before, market share often matters very little. At the end of the day, profit-driven developers aren't interested in maximizing their apps' exposure to users; they're interested in maximizing revenue and profit.
As we've seen, thus far there's little evidence that the latter is strongly correlated to platform market share, as the iPhone drives far more app sales than its competitors, including Android-based mobiles.
It's all about customers, not users
Following the above, one shouldn't ignore the fact that there are significant demographic differences between iOS users and Android users. Will this always be the case? Probably to some extent.
Which highlights an important point: mobile products and services are just like other products and services. Even when dealing with the 'mainstream', some products and services appeal to more to some individuals than to others. That means developers should target the groups most likely to be receptive to their apps (read: prospective customers).
If you're developing a mobile game, for instance, and you know that the iPhone is the most popular mobile device for individuals willing to pay for mobile gaming apps, would you target Android users first because there may be more of them? Of course not. That would be like buying a Super Bowl ad to promote a niche trade magazine simply because the Super Bowl has a ton of eyeballs.
You can't ignore tablets
When looking at iOS, you can't ignore the tablet market, as many developers building for the iPhone are increasingly building for the iPad. Yet the comScore figures Wilson cites don't count the iPad.
Android, of course, will play an increasingly important role in the tablet market too, but again, it looks like it will likely play the same role in this market as it does in the mobile market: the leading OS for lower end devices, with a significant amount of strength in emerging markets.
There's opportunity here to be sure, but this is not necessarily where developers will find the greatest opportunities.
Windows/Apple comparisons may not be accurate
Will the market OSes play out like the market for desktop OSes did more than two decades ago? It's easy to spot some obvious comparisons, and at times, one does have to wonder if Apple isn't making some of the same mistakes.
At the same time, there are significant differences. Take, for instance, the fact that app stores serve as hubs for software distribution on mobile devices, and consumers have largely embraced this.
Apple is clearly 'winning' when it comes to providing a superior experience for discovering and purchasing applications. Right now, it's hard to see Android gaining where it counts given Android Market's inferior user experience and app store fragmentation.
Bottom line: it's good for developers to be aware of history. After all, past is often prologue. But at the same time, developers shouldn't get too far ahead of themselves. Thinking that Android is Windows, as Wilson does, is dangerous because such a belief is based on huge assumptions that may very well prove to be incorrect.
You can sometimes have your cake and eat it too
At the end of the day, few serious developers treat iOS and Android as an either-or proposition. Increasingly, they'll develop for both where appropriate and this is increasingly less painful to do thanks to development tools like Appcelerator and Corona.