The month of June was all about the big tech guns courting developers. Needless to say, it was busy, especially if you had tickets to the hottest developer conferences of the year, namely Apple’s WWDC and Google I/O.
But as fun as being 'dev elite' sounds, the real question is: who is giving me the most love; and by love I mean the best opportunites to make some dough? In other words, if I’m a mobile developer, which platform should I focus on?
Well, as with anything in life (choose your poison), there are benefits and downsides to every choice. What is helpful, or so it seems, is to understand the core values from the “big three” so you can accurately assess your options.
Let’s explore what makes each company unique, shall we?
iOS and the iTunes App store started it all. Although Steve Jobs never intended iOS to be as open as it is right now for developers, it turned out that it made a slew of developers into overnight millionaires. Now, with over 600,000 apps on the app store, it is getting really hard to compete and get through the noise. Many developers talk about 'getting featured' by Apple, and while certainly it has an impact on downloads; it isn’t entirely by chance that an app can get selected.
Apple, at its core, is a hardware company. The entire ecosystem it has created through iTunes content (Videos, Music, Apps) helps Apple sell more Hardware.
In the past, I’ve gotten my game, Go Go Mongo! featured a few times by Apple. I think this is because it is an educational game, and uses the tilt sensor in the iPhone to control the character. It also features bright, colorful retina-enabled graphics. Another example is Infinity Blade, which has been featured during two keynotes because of the amazing graphics used in its games. During the new iPad launch, it was one of a select few that used the new iPad retina graphics.
Mark Ghermezian, CEO of New York-based Appboy, the developer of an SDK and web dashboard for mobile app developers notes: "We are still seeing the majority of developers launch and stay focused on iOS. At the end of the day, this platform still has the most proven ROI."
That being said, it still depends on the app you are building: if you have an app that is well designed (aesthetically) and uses unique features of Apple hardware, build on iOS. Bonus: paid apps and in-app purchases work really well here too.
Google Android has a larger install base than iOS, but very few people are truly monetizing through Android. If you look at Google, its origins were in search, and it makes a killing from advertising. They needed to have their own mobile platform because they foresaw more and more consumers shifting to mobile and inevitably, a majority of searches will happen in that environment. In short: Google needed a mobile platform to be able to serve ads and maintain its margins.
Many developers prefer Android because it’s Java based and getting apps into the non-curated Google Play is much easier than the iTunes App Store. The downside of this is tons and tons of garbage apps that populate their App Store. But does Google really care? The answer is no. Google wants as many apps as possible on the Google Play App Store and subsequently uses ads to monetize these apps. More apps equal more consumers using the Android platform, while Google secures market leadership for search and ads.
Most Android users do not pay for apps, so app developers are forced to use advertising or use in-app purchases (most of which don’t usually do as well as in-app purchases on iOS). Additionally, the checkout process is not as straightforward as it is on the iTunes App store, where a credit card and iTunes account is required for every iOS device. Theoretically, this means that Android developers need to depend on ads to monetize their apps. Furthermore, monetizing through ads is possibly the most reliable source of income due to the credit card issue.
WIP Factory (editor's note: our consulting agency), which has been building developer communities for companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Immersion for over six years, contends that app monetization on Android is improving as the freemium model, using in-app payments and virtual goods, takes hold: “This shift will help developers close the revenue gap with iOS apps, while wider support for direct carrier billing improves the customer payment process as well,” remarks CEO, Caroline Lewko. “The size of the Android user base can't be ignored, and the opportunity for developers there remains large. Right now over 50% of top grossing apps on Android currently are using the freemium model.”
Although Microsoft is a little late in the game with Windows 8 for mobile, it is tough to deny some of the unique features it has built into its latest operating system. It looks very different from iOS and Android and is highly centered around people. I personally really loved the metro interface, but struggled because my favorite apps weren’t available for the platform.
Although Microsoft has taken a bit of a backseat to the “sexier” Apple and “monolithic” Google the past few years, with the latest release of Windows 8 (which will be the same across the desktop, tablet, and mobile) I think the industry is going to get shaken up. Lets face it, Blackberry is dead, and when it goes out of business, tons of business people will be left scrambling for a new mobile device. Many have already switched over to iOS or Android, but keep in mind that a majority of businesses are still on Windows based PCs. If the enterprise shifts over to Windows 8, the logical choice will be to also choose Windows 8 for mobile as the platform of choice.
Mobile developer and Co-founder of App Discovery Platform, Crosswalk's Tom McLeod has only positive thoughts about Microsoft’s intentions around supporting app developers: "Our opinion is that if Microsoft is willing to get serious about mobile, we're ready to get serious about Microsoft. It appears that the company plans to spend time and resources to bring in quality users and court a strong developer community. It would be wrong for us to overlook 20+ years of massive platform successes, just because right now Apple is in the drivers seat."
At its core Microsoft is a software company. It loves developers because anything that they build helps them sell more software, especially to higher margin enterprise sales. The company has gone out of its way to make its developer tools easy and friendly to use. It also provides tons of marketing support to its preferred developers, who at many times are evangelical about Microsoft products. In fact, the company launched Bizspark specifically to encourage developers to get the kind of support they need to make a killer Microsoft app. They’ve really thrown a lot of resources into the developer game, and they have a growing community on nearly every social platform, where you can ask other developers questions, publicize your work, and get clear, quick support for your builds.
Point being: if you build productivity apps, or apps that really leverage the new metro interface, build for Microsoft…especially if you have a solid existing relationship with Microsoft. I have personally witnessed their dedication backing developers who choose their platform, and they have the infrastructure to do so. Although we don’t have the volume of users on Windows 8 mobile yet, this will grow, especially if the enterprise Blackberry users make a switch.
Final thoughts on the Big Three: when you are building a mobile app, it is important to understand the strategic priorities of each of these companies before you choose a platform.
Apple = Hardware
Google = Ads
Microsoft = Software
Now that is some serious, diversified love. Go get ‘em.