Today’s the big day! It’s June 6, 2012. Exactly six months ago from today, Google chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt made a wild prediction saying that six months in the future, developers would prefer creating Android apps over iOS development. Well, here we are.
“Ultimately, application vendors are driven by volume, and volume is favored by the open approach Google is taking,” Schmidt said at the LeWeb conference in December.”There are so many manufacturers working so hard to distribute Android phones globally that whether you like ICS or not–and again I like it a great deal–you will want to develop for that platform, and perhaps even first.” He later responded to a comment from an audience member about iOS apps beating Android apps to the market by saying, “my prediction is that six months from now you’ll say the opposite.”
Did Schmidt correctly predict that developers now want to create apps for Android even before iOS? Let’s just play around with that for a bit. The iOS App Store still houses far more apps than Google Play does. As I write this, there are 218,497 apps made for the iPad and that doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of apps created exclusively for the iPhone and iPod touch.
Of course, when we get into such large numbers like this, they don’t really matter much to the end user — there’s an abundance of apps in either marketplace. It means something in the context of Schmidt’s quote. According to him, developers would favor the Android platform on this exact date. Still, the majority of mobile apps fall under one of these three categories: iOS-exclusive, iOS-exclusive followed by a later expansion to Android, or immediate availability for iOS and Android.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Google+ — you most likely don’t use it, but you’ve at least heard of it, I assume. On May 9th, Google typed up a blog post announcing a beautiful redesign of the app. It’s seriously stunning. It called the update a “mobile app with sense and soul” and nobody questioned the relevancy of those characteristics for it. The app was released for the iPhone first.
Google, the maker of Android, released an app update for the iPhone before Android.
It wasn’t even a few days before, which might be forgivable. The Android version of the update wasn’t released in Google Play until May 24th. The App Store’s approval process that Google has harped on so much over the years obviously wasn’t a big obstacle at all if its own app made it through weeks before it landed on Android. Whatever the excuse may be for the app’s early release on iOS, it doesn’t boost the Google’s credibility.
Admittedly, a few things have changed over the past six months that support some of what Schmidt said. Less developers are taking the iOS-exclusive approach upon releasing apps and are instead migrating toward the iOS-followed-by-Android approach or just simultaneously releasing them on both platforms. Instagram stuck with iOS for over a year until it eventually hit Google Play in April, as did Flipboard. Even Marco Arment, who has been adamant about not developing Instapaper for Android recently hired someone else to do the job.
For the first two very popular apps, I’d argue that they both had legitimate reasons to expand onto Android and they didn’t just do it because they favored the platform. Facebook famously bought Instagram for $1 billion and from that moment it was destined to eventually release on Android because Facebook has to cover all the angles to appease its massive user base. In the case of Instapaper, it seems Arment was starting to feel the hit from free competitors Pocket or even Safari’s Reading List, so moving to Android is a natural decision to maximize profit. Flipboard is the one app I won’t make an excuse for because the developers obviously (and rightfully decided) there are benefits to entering the Android market.
While it’s true the herd of iOS-exclusive apps is slowly thinning, Android-exclusive apps are almost unheard of. All the above apps I mentioned were popularized on iOS first and gained enough traction to expand. If there are any apps exclusive to Android, they’re far from mainstream. Developers are seeing much more success by developing for iOS than they are for Android.
Let’s revisit the question I asked in the first few paragraphs. Did Schmidt correctly predict that developers now want to create apps for Android even before iOS? In a word, no. In the six months that have passed, a few things have changed in his favor, but it’s not nearly enough to corroborate his quotes at LeWeb. Is it possible that had he stretched his time span to a year or two, he would have been right? Maybe, but as of June 6, 2012, iOS remains the dominant platform for mobile apps.