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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.

Patricio Robles

Published 5 April, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2341 more posts from this author

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Andy Hopkinson, Industrial Placement - Marketing Communications at Mercedes-Benz UK

I think the top voted comment on his Blog explains what Fred has seemed to have missed:

'You're excluding iPad and iPod touch, which also run the same apps as iPhone. From a developer perspective, I don't care which of those devices a user has when they buy my app. iOS has a larger installed base than Android. If you are developing for the largest installed base, iOS is bigger than Android and always has been.

Also, iPhone is the single most popular phone, iPad is the single most popular tablet, iPod touch is the single most popular media player. If you develop for just those 3 devices, you cover the most users in all of those 3 product categories. Any 3 Android devices don't even give you as many users as iPod touch alone.'

I'm a confessed Mac fanboy, so may be bias, but he has seemed to have ignored a lot of factors in his Blog.

about 5 years ago

Nico Koepke

Nico Koepke, CEO at KODIME LtdSmall Business

We have dual applications on iOS and Android in the market, and while users behave differently, the Androids are now generating equal downloads, and no doubt will soon surpass iOs.

The main issue here is not usability - agree that currently Apple beats most others to the punch - but consumer CHOICE. Apple is a one-trick pony, whereas Android appears in a myriad of mobile devices (many not very good at all, but some brilliant) - not to mention tablets and soon TV screens. There is also an increasing backlash by mobile consumers feeling "locked in" to Apple must-use-iTunes world, and recent releases such as the amazing Cloud Player by Amazon (on Android only, no iPhone version) will drive even more users towards that system.

Finally, do not underestimate Blackberry - massive in the youth market with BBM, and we're seeing serious BB traffic on mobile sites when they are properly optimised. Race is still open, but Apple will continue to lose market share is my view.

about 5 years ago

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Zac

iOS provides a more consistent user experience - period.

That said I have only developed on Android for a local promotion with Air New Zealand Rental cars here in NZ see freeway.airnzrentalcars.com where we're using a custom app on a Garmin Asus A10 running Android. It's a higher end device and is doing the job well for us.

As recent convert to iPhone from an e71 and developing on Android there is a glaring issue with running apps on Android mobile devices as Nico says 'many not very good at all' which will inevitably damage the brand equity of the Android platform when users start loading up apps that really need one of the brillant phones Nico talks of.

The other thing is iOS users are so much more active than Android ... it's going to be really interesting to see the marketshare vs usage numbers.

A good article here with useful links Thanks EC & Patricio

about 5 years ago

Pauline Randall

Pauline Randall, Director at Florizel Media

I swapped from iPhone to HTC Desire last summer. This summer I'm heading back to Apple.

Although I've bought some apps for my HTC I can honestly say I haven't purchased anything like the number that I did for my iPhone. I hate the Android Market Place - much prefer iTunes store. I hate that my phone keeps running short of memory even though I have moved as many apps as possible through to my card. It annoys me intenshttps://twitter.com/#!/search-advanced intensely that my memory card has tons of space which I can't use for apps as they all seem to want a bit of my phone memory.

The screens on my HTC Desire seem a bit more flexible at first but actually I really want my iPhone screens back.

Getting my music onto my iPhone was a piece of cake compared to the Desire. Consequently I listened to it all the time which I don't now.

I really want my smartphone to make it easy for me to do stuff. I'm actually not interested in it being 'possible' to do if it takes me time to fiddle around with. I have enough other calls on my time and this but of my life needs to be simple.

I'm not a MacFan - my other computing power is all Windows based but I really can't wait to get back to an iPhone!

about 5 years ago

Pauline Randall

Pauline Randall, Director at Florizel Media

Not altogether sure how the link got into the previous post and can't see anyway of correcting it.

about 5 years ago

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Geoff

the one thing this article and the many others out there like it prove, is that no one knows for sure what the future holds, i'm currently a windows developer but have no axe to grind & the truth will almost certainly be that both iOS and Android will survive and thrive (maybe even Windows phone 7 will too!)

and don't forget there is still an enormous untapped market out there of non smartphone users

about 5 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

You need to develop for both platforms, ignoring android is just plain silly (and slightly rude to your customers)– Andy said iPhone is the most popular individual phone... not anymore- http://thenextweb.com/uk/2011/02/22/interest-in-apples-iphone-4-drops-as-free-htc-smartphones-tempt-uk-consumers/ it is down in 6th place according to uSwitch (this is new phone sales however).

Ignoring Android now means you aren't in a position to develop for it when it is more profitable to release apps on it.

I think the main issue with Android is that many users don't know they have it, they just have a smartphone whereas every iPhone owner will know they are on iOS and can download apps (they wouldn't have paid extra for an iPhone if they didn't know this). I think this will change over time when people become aware of it and with more Androids being sold the market for apps will surpass iOS sooner rather than later. Yeah the Android app store isn’t that good but I’m sure Google will fix that. Blackberry app usage will probably increase as well meaning 3 platforms you need to develop for... or you could just make a decent mobile site instead of three apps

about 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Nico,

"Apple is a one-trick pony, whereas Android appears in a myriad of mobile devices (many not very good at all, but some brilliant) - not to mention tablets and soon TV screens."

I wouldn't call Apple a one-trick pony. Few technology companies have launched three game-changing products (iPod, iPhone and iPad) in a single decade.

Will iOS share the Android diversity you speak of? No. But that's not Apple's intention, and the challenge Android's diversity is creating for developers is fragmentation. Do keep in mind that this fragmentation is often deep, with manufacturers physically tweaking Android for their handsets.

Also, keep in mind that not all devices are created equal. Is there a place for Android tablets? Almost certainly. Will Android tablet owners resemble their iPad counterparts? Probably not. One need only look at the significant demographic differences between iPhone owners and Android smart phone owners to understand why the iPhone drives so many more paid app purchases.

"There is also an increasing backlash by mobile consumers feeling 'locked in' to Apple must-use-iTunes world, and recent releases such as the amazing Cloud Player by Amazon (on Android only, no iPhone version) will drive even more users towards that system."

I think there has been a lot of displeasure amongst developers about some of Apple's policies, but I don't see any evidence of consumer backlash against the App Store. If anything, app sales data shows exactly the opposite: consumers are buying far more apps in Apple's store than they are anywhere else.

Amazon's Cloud Player? Consumers have been able to buy from Amazon MP3s unencumbered by DRM but this has done nothing to dent iTunes' market dominance. The message: mainstream consumers care less about 'lock-in' than they do about experience. Right now, nobody is beating Apple at the experience game. Until consumers feel that they're locked in to an *inferior* experience provided by Apple, there's little reason to believe that they'll complain about being locked in to solutions they generally love.

about 5 years ago

Nico Koepke

Nico Koepke, CEO at KODIME LtdSmall Business

Patricio, a small % of mass market consumers can afford Apple mobile pricing. Try out something like the Samsung Galaxy GT5500 on pre-pay (no contract) for £99, with touchscreen, Wifi etc - say for facebook and messaging use, which is the mass appeal here - is it really that much worse than an iPhone?

It is all well and good to praise Apple's usability, which we all agree on, but innovation and mass market reach is not driven by one single company for very long.

A simple idea and unique feature like Blackberry Messenger can very quickly drive market adoption, with lots of teens now saying ok I may have an iTouch for my music, but for communication and social media I trust my BB.

Finally, it just means one thing - as marketers and technology people we need to make sure our mobile stuff works across multiple platforms and devices, retaining sufficient flexibility - we don't build websites just for Mac/Safari and/or Chrome either. I personally prefer fragmentation and the hassle it brings to a one-size fits all universe. Apple came and built on years of work by the likes of Nokia, and others will in turn build on Apple's innovation, just how it goes :-)

about 5 years ago

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Kate Bagoy

Very well written article, and some great comments. One thing that wasn't discussed is the potential for future growth in HTML5/JS apps - innovative web apps offer the possibility of a consistent brand experience across most devices & OS's. While app markets get more exclusive, the opportunity to distribute native apps will become harder and I think we will see a shift towards web.

about 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Nico,

The issue here isn't the cost of Apple-based offerings. Again, developers are interested in maximizing their profit; if doing that means focusing their development on devices and platforms with the greatest reach, that's what they'll do, but right now, that's not the case.

If you're developing a game that you want to sell as a paid app, for instance, you need to approach distribution like any other business, asking the question "Where are my potential customers?" The data leaves no doubt: the App Store dominates when it comes to paid apps.

Does this mean there's no market opportunity with Android? Of course not. But pretending that the low end of the market (and emerging markets) should be treated the same as the higher end of the market is not a viable strategy.

As for fragmentation: yes, it's important to think cross-device, cross-platform. But I also think there are huge differences between mobile devices and OSes, and browsers. One of the biggest: demographics. Based on studies comparing iOS to Android owners, it seems that mobile device/OS can probably be used a fairly reliable signal for demographic segmentation in some markets, whereas I haven't seen any evidence that there's a strong correlation between browser selection and demographics.

Kate,

I think web-based mobile apps will become more prominent, but I don't think HTML5 is a panacea. It seems likely that there will be proprietary implementations of some HTML5 features.

about 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan

Hi,

Let's give you a simple example - we just launched a mobile optimised site for the UK and USA. We did a lot of analysis of handset devices visiting us and used this to test.

The traffic was exactly as predicted - Android over 50% visit share, iPhone 38%, Blackberry 7%, iPod 3% (note: tablets excluded).

To support all the various Android devices, we have one stylesheet that handles them all. This gives us the biggest reach to potential customers.

It's simple - follow where the customer intent to use is. If that's an iOS app then great - if your customers are using Android in your market heavily - you need to support that too.

Most people don't have a clue what devices are owned and used by their customer base as they inaccurately measure device types using traditional web analytics tools.

I am writing an article for e-c on app vs hybrid mobile site so will share some of the worldwide stats.

Some stats from my latest analysis - android conversion is better on the larger screen models and those running later versions of iOS. Note also that Android growth is huge worldwide but is concentrated in some key markets. USA, Germany, France and the UK show stronger growth than elsewhere, for example.

One salient point for anyone - don't look at market ownership stats, analysts figures or purchasing projections. They are all useless to you. You need to know what people are wanting to do with you, at the moment they choose to do it and using the handset they own. If you look at market figures, they won't represent your audience - a B2B site, for example, will have a much higher blackberry audience.

If you have a main website or choke point for your mobile traffic, measure the device visitors regularly using something like www.bango.com. This will give you a better idea of your audience reach and how to design your sites, your apps and your approach to maximise this reach.

We've done this with our hybrid mobile site and this works with over 97% of the handsets that came Jan-March. The business coming in has been fantastic.

End device discrimination - support the formats, handsets and tablets that your customers own and want to use with you. If you don't know what these are or how they are changing every week, you'll waste money following unprofitable segments.

about 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan

Hi - if anyone is interested, I can run off a graph of Android growth, per country, over the last 13 months?

Think this might be illuminating - the tablet growth is also huge. Here are a couple of slides showing mobile growth in some key markets, as well as tablet devices only:

http://slidesha.re/fYjzb4

about 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

@Kate - actually the subject of an article - there are more html5/hybrid web apps out there than you think.

Some brilliant cross device work going on and although we're not quite at the same level of experience as apps yet (it's coming) - it's still driving lots of business. Not hard to imagine that doing 'good stuff' with site traffic that 'discovers' you through surfing - will actually drive good business (for some companies).

The shift towards web is already happening but this isn't an aesthetics debate IMHO - it's more about utility and context of the user. If I damn well search for you on my phone, I want a web experience to begin with! Give it to me.

about 5 years ago

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Craig Sullivan, Customer Experience Manager at Belron International

@Patricio - when it comes to conversion, there is no 'low end' to the market with Android. Customer usage patterns and conversion is on a par with iPhones so who cares what the price point is - it's all about people using the devices.

You may find, for example, that a lot of the devices in your market are 'feature phones' - but do these devices convert in real life? Do they have potential to drive business - No. Why? Because their internet experience sucks.

Apple transformed the internet experience on mobile but Android uses the same web browser and offers the same capabilities. It also offers the same business opportunity (if those owners are in your target market).

about 5 years ago

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Bard

A recent survey in Norway proved that Android users are way more active users of broadband than iOS, even though the iOS dominate the owner share, the activity level of these users are very different.

The survey concluded the simple to use iOS played against them, a very big share of owners buy the phone to look cool. Use it as a telephone and SMS tool and might download emails. They don't tweak, buy apps, music, movies not even surf the net.

Whileas Android users used the phone actively on the net, tweaked the phones and downloaded apps.

This is very interesting data, when it came to the iPad also a large quantity of users bought them to look cool, unable or uninterested in taking advantage of the platform. They did to a larger degree surf webpages, and used the net more actively. However, still many had little to no interest in buying apps or anything from appstore.

This makes me believe that Android is the new cool, especially amongst the actual users of smartphones.

about 5 years ago

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