For practical early-stage startup purposes, there are really just two mobile platforms1. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
Start with iOS Only
If you are launching a new mobile application, build and launch it on iOS out of the gate, and forget about Android for a while.
I say this because I’m an incurable fanboi who has been brainwashed by the Church of Apple2. And also because I’ve run mobile development teams for apps with more than a million downloads on each platform. Please learn from my experience, or send me a postcard from the special corner of hell reserved for early-stage executives who attempt parallel mobile development strategies.
There are three main reasons you should stick with iOS for the first phase of your mobile buildout.
Single platform focus.
You already know this one. Trying to do too much at once is the classic blunder of the early-stage tech company. The task of building a great product on one platform alone is daunting. More than one is guaranteed to distract you. You’ll be burdened with two parallel design processes (if you think it’s okay to have an app look/act identically on the two platforms, please tell me in the comments, so I can write another article smacking you around). You’ll likely find bugs that have to be fixed in both places. You’ll have much higher support costs fielding questions from multiple sides of the fence. Not to mention at least double the testing time in-house.
Building for two mobile platforms is like having two children. It turns out to be a lot more than twice the work of one child.
iOS is easier to build for
This is a real “live-wire” issue in some circles. But even in the most optimistic case, the two platforms are equal in difficulty when it comes to building a solid app. But the consistency and maturity of the iOS SDK really starts to shine when you have to get fancy, like using the camera, the microphone, capturing video, doing animations for games or 3D applications, etc. When it comes to more complicated apps, you can read all over the web about the challenges of developing for Android.
Someday those challenges will be worth it for your business, and you’ll be prepared to hire two Android devs for every one iOS dev. But not right now.
iOS is more lucrative
This trend may be slowly changing, but for now, iOS is still a more lucrative platform than Android. iOS users are less price sensitive, apps are on average three-times more expensive. And this has a major bearing on the relative revenue per platform, with Android still well behind iOS, despite equal (or by some measures far greater) market share.
Consider Android If…
So under what circumstances would I ignore my own advice? Here are a few (but proceed with caution):
- Network Effect / Communications Tools – If the success of your product is dependent upon a network effect, and in particular if it’s a communication tool, you may have no choice but to have a ubiquitous platform presence. For example, a mobile app for coordinating schedules for little league sports teams will not succeed unless all the parents in the league can use it. Adoption by 50% of the parents provides no real value. Just don’t underestimate the complexity parallel development tracks will add to your product roadmap.
- Particular Target Demographics – Certain countries have higher Android saturation (I’m lookin’ at you Spain). Android skews lower-income. Notwithstanding the argument above that iOS is a demonstrably more lucrative platform, you may identify that your market skews heavily Android. If you are in this situation, develop for Android-only out of the gate, and ignore iOS. The focus you’ll gain by sticking with one platform is still critical.
- “Freedom” Required – It’s possible that your app relies on behaviors not available in iOS. You are building a mobile browser and need users to set it as the default on their devices. You need to be able to communicate directly with other apps on the phone, or share data between applications natively. iOS has guidelines for accomplishing 95% of what you want to, but if that remaining 5% is a deal-breaker for your business, then you probably already know that you are an Android-first/only product.
While iOS is the best launch platform available, it’s not all ponies and roses. iOS comes with its own set of development challenges, including restrictions on how data is managed and shared, sometimes lengthy approval (or soul-crushing rejection!) cycles for the App Store, plus brutal competition for app discovery. Dealing with these challenges is a topic for a future article
- Jon Evans takes a more technical evaluation, but comes to the same conclusion