Apple has traditionally been recognized as having superior apps, but recent reports suggest Android apps are about to take off.
Android was once popular because it was known as the platform for “free apps.” Of course there were quite a few technically minded consumers that preferred the open source model, preferred the customization and widgets available, and then some people went with Android strictly because it wasn’t Apple.
The landscape has changed significantly as both mobile ecosystems have matured, but one thing has remained basically the same: The iPhone has better apps. This is not nearly as stark of a situation it was just a few short years ago, but the iPhone does have a reputation for having better developed apps.
This is demonstrated by the fact that of the top 50 payed apps and top 50 free apps, 30% are iPhone exclusive. If Android has over 79% market share, then why does Apple have such a disproportionate exclusivity on the big apps? Most of it comes down to developers.
First, Apple iOS apps are easier to develop. In short, Apple makes it much easier to develop good apps. Google is getting much better at this, but Apple apps require much simpler coding, the API’s are easier to use, and you only have to develop for a small range of devices and screen sizes since Apple is the only manufacturer that makes iOS devices.
Second, iOS apps are far more profitable for developers. Part of it comes from the crowd. Apple users are more likely to pony up $1.99 for for their favorite app. There is a bit of circular reasoning here as well, but people are more likely to pay for an app that is better developed. Since iOS has better developed apps, people are willing to pay for them, which in turn attracts developers to continue making better apps for iOS.It is also more difficult to pirate apps for iOS. Android apps can be downloaded and installed with relative ease, making the Google Play Store almost an honor system when it comes to app purchases. Developers routinely look at the number of apps in use on devices and find that the number far exceeds the number of apps sold via the Google Play Store.
Third, iOS apps are easier to support after launch. Developing an Android app is a big commitment. Although the majority of Android use is focused on a few dozen devices, there are over 12,000 unique Android phone and tablet types out there. Having to debug and release patches to fix that many potential issues is a daunting task and is a big push away from Android and towards iOS for most developers.
As I said before, though, Google is making it easier for developers to create new apps for Android. Last year at Google I/O, there were several new developer tools launched to make it easier for developers to support a range of devices, so it isn’t unreasonable to anticipate additional announcements at this year’s Google I/O.
A recent report was also released, showing that Android is actually a more stable platform for apps. Android phones running Android 4.4 KitKat were found to only have apps crash 0.7% of the time, whereas iOS 7.1 apps crash 1.6% of the time. iOS 7.1 does have a much larger adoption rate than KitKat, but it is still a good indication as to the strength of the platform.
Combined with the recent news of likely security improvements for Android, many developers may be drawn to Google’s platform. Such a move will actually be good for all apps, regardless of platform. Despite the competitive nature of comparing Google’s numbers to Apple’s, the more profitable apps are for developers (for either platform), the better quality apps will be in general.
If people didn’t have to choose phones based on app compatibility, we would see more features improved by manufacturers in order to find new areas to compete. Not only would the overall level of app quality be improved, but cameras, batteries, screen resolution, and other less common features like wireless charging will see a massive boost from the increase in competition.