A little over a week ago, we threw down the gauntlet – launching our new app ‘US Public Lands’ for Android just days after the iOS version went on sale.
We challenged Android fans to prove that there is a viable market out there, asking:
So…. Droids…. stand up and be counted, and show us that the ecosystem can be supportive of independent niche market developers too. … Can the Android version of ‘US Public Lands’ keep pace, if not outsell, the iOS version?
After all the boastful talk about how “Android is dominant now”, how did the Droids do when it came time to stand up and be counted?
The release of ‘US Public Lands‘ for Android came just 5 days behind the iOS launch, making for a fairly direct comparison. The Android release got its own dedicated blog post, and we followed up about the Android release in all of the same places we made the first iOS announcement. We even updated the original iOS announcement with links to the Google Play store.
We feel we gave the Android version as identical of an opportunity as possible. And had we known our development partner, Hired Gun Software, was that close to finishing – we might have even held the iOS release a few days to even further level the playing field.
So, let’s compare the first week’s sales:
Over the course of the launch week for each version, iOS outsold Android nearly 3-to-1. Even comparing the ongoing iOS sales with the launch Android sales, Android was only barely able to keep pace.
Looking at the ongoing sales reports, Android sales have continued to slow down and fall even further behind:
Talking with other developers, the 3-to-1 ratio we are seeing actually seems to be considered pretty good. Adam, the creator of the absolutely essential AllStays Camp & RV app, commented on our Android announcement post – saying that for him iOS is outselling Android nearly 10-to-1, and:
“On top of that, 75% of my customer service inquires are about Android because of fragmentation and carrier billing issues I have nothing to do with. I honestly ask myself each week why I am still doing Android.”
Our other cross-platform app ‘State Lines‘ was launched on iOS three years before we brought it out for Android. We expected to see some pent up demand for the Android version of an app that many have told us is an essential tool in their RVing arsenal.
But comparing four different time periods inevitably left the Droids lagging way behind. It’s worth noting that between 2010 and 2013, Android supposedly became the dominant device in the mobile marketplace, and our own social media reach was 3.5 times higher when we launched the Android version in 2013.
Both factors that theoretically should have resulted in a higher launch sales numbers, not lower.
And yet, here is how the sales stacked up:
iOS is already a tough market and a pretty big gamble for a developer to invest their time, money & energy into – especially independent niche developers. The Android market on the other hand makes the Apple Appstore feel downright bountiful in comparison.
While the numbers are disappointing, we do still plan to do the work to port ‘Coverage?‘ to Android. But these numbers definitely will influence how much of a priority it is for both us and Hired Guns Software.
These are yet more examples of why so many developers are reluctant to invest in Android – the support burden is usually substantially higher, and the sales are inevitably substantially lower. Other than making it easier to get featured and linked to by major media (they prefer cross-platform apps), the main incentive of doing Android sometimes seems to be to stop the endless stream of “What about Android?” comments and emails.
This is why so many apps come out on iOS first, and even on iOS only.
So where are the Android Users?!?
This begs us to ask the question – if there are so many Android devices out there, why don’t the app sales at least keep pace with iOS?
It’s easy to speculate that perhaps:
- We simply have more Apple fans who follow us which might skew sales of our apps – but when looking at our stats our blog is viewed on Apple devices only about 30% of the time.
- RVers, the target audience of our apps, might tend towards iOS devices over Android – but based on discussions in RVing forums and groups, we don’t feel this is true.
- Android users simply don’t buy apps at the same pace as iOS users.
In my former life as the ‘Chief Spy’ (aka ‘Director of Competitive Analysis’) for Palm and PalmSource, it was my job to intimately know absolutely everything about every mobile operating system and device out there.
In other words – I got to play with all the toys.
This was a world before the iPhone and Android – when smartphones were still relatively crude and clunky things, and most people thought that the RIM Blackberry or the Palm Treo was the smartphone to beat.
But if you listened to the analysts tracking market share however – it was a Symbian world, and the message to developers even as recently as 2009 sounded very familiar to what we are hearing about Android versus iOS today. According to analysts and a few vocal Symbian fans, Symbian was where the smartphone developers should be focused.
After all – Symbian had a commanding lead with over 50% of the smartphone market!
“What is a Symbian”, most average users would say. (Not to be confused with the sex toy ‘Sybian‘, btw…)
Those watching the industry closely knew that the marketshare numbers were deceptive bunk – hardly anyone chose a Symbian-powered phone intentionally over any other smartphone platform. Symbian just happened to be the OS inside the low-end “free” and discounted phones being pushed by many local cellular shops.
Most users didn’t know or care that they were buying a smartphone – they just wanted the cheapest option on the shelf.
We knew from our market research at PalmSource that the bulk of these users never knew that they were even running Symbian OS, and hardly any of them ever went on to pay any attention at all to apps – creating a wasteland for developers foolish enough to invest time and effort in chasing this supposed “dominant” market.
Things are a bit different now however, as there is a legitimate high-end Android market filled with passionate users who are intentionally making a conscious platform choice and who are willing to invest in quality apps.
But the truth hidden beneath the “Android is winning!” marketshare numbers and headlines is that Android has actually dominated in taking over the the former Symbian market.
In other words – now that nearly all new phones are classified as “smartphones”, Android has taken over Symbian’s dominant place in the “I just bought what was cheap” market. Those customers are content with the pre-installed functionality of the phone they have in their pocket, and don’t seek out downloading paid apps to add functionality.
Though I no longer have a hefty market research budget to calculate it scientifically – I’d venture to guess that once you factor the “free/cheap phone” users out of the equation, the actual true Android versus iOS app purchaser marketshare has iOS still clearly strongly dominating with users who are willing to actually pay for apps.
The Android army may be vocal, but when push comes to shove there’s just not as many actual paying customers there.
The next time we get a lengthy email demanding Android support and accusing us of ignoring the “vast majority of the market”, perhaps we’ll let Shakespeare respond for us:
“It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
– Shakespeare, Macbeth
Developer Perspective: Android Advantages and Disadvantages
To be fair, despite the lack of paying customers, there are some ways that the Android world has a better developer experience than Apple.
For one – you do not have to go through a time consuming approval process to release a new app, or to send out updates. Our Android development partner Hired Gun Software was able to easily push out several small bug and compatibility fixes to ‘US Public Lands’ in essentially real-time, responding to user complaints instantly. On iOS, it can take a few days for our apps and updates to be approved – which forces us to do a lot more testing for a rock solid release.
And speaking of replying to user complaints – the Google Play store allows developers to publicly respond to user reviews, making it possible to support disgruntled users in a way that Apple does not at all allow. This is one of our biggest frustrations with the Apple Appstore.
On the other hand – Apple makes it possible for developers to issue promo codes so that they can give away free app copies, a seemingly basic feature that is completely absent in the Google Play store. We gave away a bunch of copies of ‘US Public Lands’ on Facebook recently, but because of this Google restriction had to limit this promo to iOS users only. This makes it difficult to gift out copies when we’re feeling generous, or to even give out review copies to bloggers or the press.
The disadvantages of Android for developers however are numerous…
In the Apple universe, there are only a tiny handful of devices for developers to worry about, with even fewer different screen sizes, and all of these devices tend to get easy and free OS updates for years after they are first released. Even a relatively ancient device like the iPhone 4 (released mid-2010!) is still fully supported by Apple with the latest iOS release, making it easy for developers to stay compatible.
Meanwhile, in the Android world, there is no central authority able to push out OS updates or even basic security fixes to users. And there is very little incentive for device manufacturers to even provide any ongoing updates to most phones once they are sold. Sometimes even “new” phones being sold by stores are stuck running a version of Android that may be even years out of date.
Even now six months after release, Google reports that only 5.3% of Android users are running the latest Android release, version 4.4 KitKat. What a contrast to Apple!
This means that there are literally thousands of different possible Android hardware and software configurations that developers need to theoretically support, dozens of screen sizes, and even former flagship phones from just a year or two ago are now orphaned with no new OS updates being made available.
The chart above matches our experience – as of this week over 85% of the users of our app ‘Coverage?’ are already running iOS 7.1, and only a fraction of a percent of active users are still on versions older than iOS 7.0. This makes it easy for developers like us to support the latest operating system and the newest features.
Magnifying the fragmentation issue on Android is that even though the Amazon Kindle and the B&N Nook are based upon Android, they have taken Android in a completely divergent and often incompatible direction from Google. Because Google has not shared the latest improvements with the Android implementation of Google maps with these unofficial Android branches, this has made it impossible for ‘US Public Lands’ to support these devices.
Clearly not all Androids are created equal.
Even Android fans admit that Android fragmentation is “turning devices into a toxic hell stew of vulnerabilities“.
That stew sure doesn’t sound very tasty to me.
Android Purchaser Tip: The surest way to minimize the impact of Android fragmentation issues is to only ever buy the newest flagship phones from the major manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola. Make sure you do NOT buy a phone that does not come with the latest version of Android already pre-installed. Currently this is Android 4.4 KitKat. Many older phones still being sold will likely never receive any future updates – making your “free” phone into a future breeding ground for malware and spyware. Don’t do it – just say no!