Advancements to web technology and the adoption of HTML5 are giving developers the tools to create rich, responsive, mobile-friendly websites. However, despite enhancements to website functionality, native apps can deliver a far superior user experience in certain applications.
While websites are a cost-effective method of delivering content to a broad audience, they are best suited to a one-way flow of information; apps, on the other hand, are better suited to providing an interactive user experience. Native apps are the preferred choice for interactive gaming, paid content delivery and a variety of task oriented “functional” applications, as they allow functionality and design that is not possible on websites:
- Full access: Native apps allow access to device hardware, including cameras, gyroscopes and accelerometers—websites can’t access this hardware to the same extent.
- Customization: Mobile app development allows unparalleled customization of the user interface.
- Processing Power: Complex data processing tasks can be easily accomplished with native apps.
- Offline Capability: Native apps reside on the device, allowing access to the app when an Internet connection is not available.
Having determined that a native app is the best option to provide your desired user experience, the question becomes “Which platform?” Android and iOS are the dominant mobile operating systems. How do you decide which platform is right for you? In many cases, it is not an either/or decision; the right answer is “both.” However, budget, time or other constraints sometimes force a choice. A look at the benefits and drawbacks of mobile app development on both platforms helps to identify the preferred platform for a given app.
Android and iOS are competing for market share. Combined, they account for over 95% of the worldwide mobile platform market. Overall, Android enjoys a significant lead with an 80% market share. But if you dig a little deeper into these numbers, you’ll find large regional variation in market share.
In North America, the two platforms have almost equal market share, while European markets show a slight preference for Android devices. Asian and emerging markets have a strong preference for Android devices, with Android devices capturing 75–90% market share. Given this variation, it’s clear the geographic make-up of the target market plays a role in choosing the app platform.
User demographics can influence the development platform decision. iOS devices are high-end products and command a premium price—because of this, the profile of the iOS user base is considered to be more affluent. Android devices are available at a broad range of price points and the Android platform is dominant in emerging markets. iOS apps also consistently earn higher average revenue per user than Android apps. These factors need to be considered so the platform aligns with the target demographic.
The iOS platform resides on Apple devices. Apple has high standards for their devices and this helps ensure they are capable of delivering the desired app experience. Fewer variations of compatible devices helps developers ensure the app performs properly across the entire family of iOS devices.
The open source nature of the Android platform has helped it become the dominant operating system for mobile devices. It is installed on devices from numerous manufacturers, encompassing a range of device capabilities. This creates issues with ensuring a consistent app experience across all Android devices. Greater care is required with Android apps to ensure compatibility with a maximum number of Android devices.
Marketing and Distribution
Significant differences exist between Android and iOS when it comes to app distribution. iTunes is the only option for iOS users wishing to install apps on their device. Apple imposes strict guidelines on app developers and reserves the right to decide what apps are available through their app store.
Google Play and Kindle are the main marketplaces for Android apps. They impose significantly less restrictions on the type and quality of applications in their marketplace. Additionally, the Android platform allows side loading of apps to the device, eliminating the reliance on mainstream marketplaces.
Apps with potentially controversial content or that don’t comply with Apple standards won’t make it to iTunes, leaving no distribution channel for the iOS app. The open nature of the Android platform eliminates this risk and gives more freedom to the creative team and developer.
Both Android app dev and iOS app dev greatly benefit from the prominence of quality APIs and SDKs. From a functional prospective, anything you can do on the iOS platform you can do on the Android platform and vice versa.
Both Android and iOS marketplaces are mature and provide access to large number of users. While ecosystem differences may help you prioritize development of Android or iOS apps, the risk of excluding a large segment of users by ignoring either platform can’t be ignored. Choose you primary platform carefully, but plan to eventually have a presence on both Android and iOS.