One question that surfaces early for those considering building an app is which platform to target as the Android vs iOS development debate has raged for some time. The reality is that this is a multi-faceted question with a lot of elements that work together to determine whether to select one over the other. Yet, you might be surprised to learn that differences are quite subtle.
Today, this question isn’t nearly as relevant as it used to be just five years ago. Thanks to technologies like React Native, Flutter, Xamarin, and other cross-platform development frameworks, it’s no longer necessary to choose in most cases as these tools allow developers to create one set of code that can be used for both platforms. Still, a handful of differences between the platforms are responsible for some companies seeing better performance in their iOS app when compared to their Android version or vice versa.
Let’s start by quickly revisiting some current stats on the mobile app market then we’ll discuss some of the differences between the platforms that contribute to an app’s success.
A quick look at stats for mobile apps
This year, we composed a piece that highlights some of the most meaningful stats for mobile apps and smart devices in the world today. Here, we see that the entire mobile device market is expected to bring $581.9 billion this year, factoring in everything from revenue generated from in-app purchases (IAP) and in-app advertising (IAA), and hardware sales.
For the sake of the Android vs iOS development argument, it’s important to note that Android has a much larger market share at 78% compared to Apple’s 20%. As such, it makes sense that about three times as many Android apps are downloaded compared to iOS. Though Android commands a bigger market share and more apps are downloaded as a result, spending on iOS is significantly higher. When searching for concrete data on actual spending, you’ll see all kinds of different figures that have been extrapolated from different reports but the one thing that remains consistent is that the App Store generates more money than Google Play.
Android vs iOS development: factors when selecting a platform(s)
We strongly urge businesses to go with cross-platform development for a few reasons. By building an app with a framework like React Native, we’re able to share upwards of 80% of the code between an Android and iOS app which maximizes your exposure. In doing so, your app will be available to roughly 98% of the mobile market rather than just the Android or iOS portion. At this point, the question loses relevance as you’ll earn income on both platforms.
With that said, each app will perform differently not because of the platform, but the userbase. Too, there are a few other differences worth mentioning as well.
The cost differences in Android vs iOS development
Developing for both platforms costs slightly more than developing for a single platform but it’s much less expensive than building an app using separate native coding frameworks. Even if you’re just considering releasing your app on another platform, you’ll save a substantial amount of money in the long run if you bite the bullet during the initial development phase.
For those set on only releasing for one platform, the costs to develop an app for either are about the same, with pure iOS development often costing just a little less. Developing in Swift (Apple’s official language) typically requires writing a little less code than when developing an Android app in Java, making pure iOS development a little less expensive across the board.
Compatibility differences with third-party software and hardware
The same factors that make Android development more involved are also what allows the platform to reign over iOS in terms of compatibility. Integrating third-party software or connecting to external hardware is typically easier because of Android’s open-source ecosystem. For example, Android’s toolkits for using NFC and RFID technologies are far more developed when compared to iOS. This is why we used the Android-based Clover system when we built the Magic Money ticketing system for venues and events.
Think about how having access to a wide assortment of specialty tools positions a mechanic to be better at repairing a vehicle. If you think about it, there are all kinds of ways to remove a tire from a car but it’s much easier if you have a tire iron. The same idea holds true for developers – those with access to a larger assortment of tools spend less time figuring out or building workarounds to accomplish a task which saves them time and ensures a better fit.
Developing for an enterprise
Many enterprises opt for iOS devices for a couple of reasons, namely because there’s more standardization making iOS easier to deploy and manage. Most modern mobile device management (MDM) systems, including first-party Apple services like Apple Business Manager, don’t require a ton of customization which is often the case with Android because of fragmentation, especially in BYOD environments.
The open nature of Android inherently creates more loopholes that are less predictable when compared to iOS making it not the ideal option for enterprise use in most cases. Because of the controlled development process for iOS, iPadOS, and other Apple platforms, there’s less ground to cover with regards to security and functionality.
However, when it comes to offering a standalone app that will run on a device while in kiosk mode, Android outshines Apple in this area. Common applications for kiosk mode include ATMs and POS systems – because there is more variety in Android devices and the fact it can be installed as an embedded system on just about anything, businesses both have more options at their disposal, most of which are much cheaper than their Apple counterparts.
The difference in general user behavior
The most important differences in Android vs iOS development have nothing to do with the underlying technologies that define these systems but rather with the nature of each userbase. All kinds of studies and polls have been conducted over the years that reveal distinct differences between the two groups – though many are trivial, we can look at the actual outcomes of these supposed differences to validate at least some of these studies.
Referring to the mobile app stats from before, iOS brings in more revenue despite having a lower market share and fewer downloads. Most studies and polls show the general iOS user being more affluent than Android users and as such, have more disposable income to spend on conveniences and entertainment. Generalizations aside, the numbers show that iOS users are significantly more likely to spend money on paid apps, IAP, IAS, and even mobile counterparts of eCommerce sites. If an app’s business model depends on IAP or IAS, then iOS should be the focus unless the app is game as spending is about the same with Android bringing in slightly less for most titles.
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