Today, Craig Palli of Fiksu tackles the most vexing question for mobile developers “Do I develop for iOS or Android first?” Be sure to add your voice to the comments.
There is a widely held belief in the mobile ecosystem that app developers should build for iOS first. There’s no doubt that Apple’s first mover advantage in the app space and its built-in mechanism for monetization have made it an attractive place for developers to place their resource bets.
But over time, the odds have been changing – competition in the iOS market has become extremely intense, making it harder for new apps to succeed. A few years ago a developer could come out of nowhere to build a successful app business. Today, it’s no longer just about building an innovative app with a better user experience. To be successful, an app has to cut through the clutter of the marketplace – that typically means major commitments in perfecting the product, honing the business model and promoting the app. Because of this, the risks to developing on iOS are much higher now. With a much less forgiving market it is important to get both your product and marketing strategy right the first time.
While the ante for the iOS market has steadily grown, the barriers to entry in Android remain much lower. Developers can iterate and test their designs quicker on Android, and marketing costs are significantly lower. At the same time, the Android user base has been growing at a faster rate, and has become the largest overall smartphone market. Finally, Android has been improving its monetization infrastructure, the one area that has been a big question mark for many developers.
For developers who want to maximize their chances of overall success, it may make sense to target Android first. Android provides a more agile environment where you can perfect and test your app design, learn the best marketing channels and hone your business model.
Here are 10 reasons why you should consider developing for Android first.
1. Biggest Addressable Smartphone market
Both the iOS and Android ecosystems are huge and filled with opportunity. However, an increasing amount of research indicates that the Android platform is larger and growing faster than iOS. Most recently Nielson reported that Android has achieved an overall 48.5 percent market share versus 32 percent for iOS. In addition, the NPD Group released a study stating Android had over 60 percent of the US activations in Q1 2012 versus 29 percent for iOS. According to Google, 850,000 Android devices are activated every day.
2. Up and Coming Neighborhood
In some ways, Android is like an up and coming neighborhood – less appreciated by the general public, but ripe with potential for the savvy early movers. Contrast this to the desirable but very expensive real estate in iOS. App search firm Xyologic indicates that it is increasingly hard for apps to break into the top 100 in iOS. “We at Xyologic have seen the momentum of iOS for app publishers slow down considerably in the last 5 months. Several key performance indicators we track are down, especially the amount of new apps which make it to the Top 100.” Google Play in contrast is seeing an increase in market size. Xyologic reports that in March 2012, all of the top 25 free app downloads had more volume than the equivalent top 25 positions in iOS. Perhaps one reason is that Android provides alternate paths for app discovery, which make it easier for new apps to break into the market.
In many respects the Apple App Store and Google Play environments serve as search engines for mobile apps. Search capabilities on iOS are limited – there is no way for marketers to know which keywords users are searching for that ultimately lead to app downloads. App rank has therefore become extremely important for an app’s success on iOS, and has tended to drive cost for marketing campaigns. Competitors may apply brute force and big budgets to vie for a top spot in the rankings, bidding up ad costs for all.
In contrast, Google Play provides a robust search capability, making it easier for users to search for apps of interest. This difference in infrastructure seems to drive different behavior. Rank, while still important, holds much less sway over how an app is discovered. A study by Fiksu determined that roughly 80 percent of users on Google play found apps via search rather than browsing.
Marketers also have access to tools that provide keyword insight. This lets them optimize app titles, descriptions and even helps prioritize product features. Overall, Google Play’s search capabilities level the playing field, allowing less well-known apps and brands additional opportunities to reach prospective users.
4. Lower User Acquisition Costs:
The days of writing an app and having it take off on its own are long gone. Successful apps today require promotion and marketing resources. Here, the less crowded market provides has an edge – it is significantly cheaper to acquire a new customer on Google Play. Fiksu recently conducted an analysis of available advertising inventory which revealed that Android is able to deliver 12 percent more ad inventory than iOS. As one would expect, a bountiful supply translates into a bargain – the estimated cost of that inventory was 40 percent lower than for iOS.
5. Reduced Privacy Concerns
In recent months there has been increased scrutiny by the press and governments on privacy. The long-standing industry standard for marketing attribution on iOS platforms, the Unique Device Identifier (UDID), has been cited for coupling ad tracking to an identifier that many consider to be the digital equivalent of a social security number. Recent moves by Apple to move away from the UDID have created a scramble in the iOS market. In response, there are now multiple competing third party solutions, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, causing fragmentation in the iOS ad market. This uncertainty is leaving developers wondering where they should best place their resource bets.
In contrast, Android has a standard mechanism for marketing attribution. This mechanism is well understood and is consistent with how marketers have been executing on the desktop for more than 15 years. Android automatically provides referrer information that anonymously identifies the source of a download, so the solution for tracking performance is clear and unambiguous.
6. Highly Reliable Ad Attribution
Marketing attribution on iOS uses several methods that require database matching of user data between ad networks and marketers. Because of the way this process works, it is prone to inconsistencies in the data. Most notably it is very easy to double count new user conversions such that multiple traffic sources take credit for the same new user. Android’s referrer-based mechanism is unambiguous and provides a consistent mechanism for marketing attribution.
7. Agility, Fast Turnaround – The Perfect Testing Ground
In the rapidly evolving app market, the ability to adapt quickly is extremely valuable. Google Play provides a perfect environment for apps in their early stages: developers can react to feedback quickly and have an app update available on Google Play literally in a few hours. In contrast, Apple’s App Store approval process frequently takes more than a week, and apps must be resubmitted if there is an issue. These delays and the added uncertainty can be a significant headache in the development process. For developers who expect to refine their apps through rapid feedback and frequent iterations, Google Play is the perfect proving ground.
8. Shared Learning
With a quicker development turnaround and lower advertising costs, developers can learn a lot from Android implementation. The Android environment will allow you to perfect and test your app design so you can leverage your learnings for development and rollout of iOS apps with an increased probability of success.
9. The Early Bird….
Rank is often cited as a key for growing the user base. Google Play and iOS have very different methods to determine rank. In iOS, raw downloads are very important in achieving high ranks. Apps that cannot sustain large numbers of downloads will find their ranking slips quickly. Google’s ranking algorithm works very differently and is skewed in favor of apps that show user retention. Getting an app into Google Play first and building a steady user base is rewarded, presenting an early mover advantage for apps debuting on Play sooner.
10. Improving Monetization Metrics, Loyal Users
Research conducted by Fiksu has determined that Android users convert from installs to loyal users at about the same or a higher rate than on iOS. So, with the right targeting you can expect equally good results.
Of course, the big concern with Google Play in the media is monetization—published reports have knocked the platform for lower levels of monetization versus iOS. It’s important to note that the gap is closing. Flurry, probably the major source of research on this topic, notes that the biggest factor behind the gap is payment mechanisms. Flurry and others expect this situation to improve with the integration of Google Wallet and Google Checkout. That improvement already appears to be occurring. App research firm Distimo indicates it saw an 80 percent improvement in average daily revenues for the top 200 US apps between December 2011 and March 2012. Furthermore, in a post titled Treat Android as a first-class citizen… it’ll pay off!, game developer TinyCo noted that Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU) for Google Play and iTunes is about the same as iOS, and found that Amazon performance surpassed that of iOS by a significant margin.
Bonus Reason: Easier Transition to Amazon’s Store
Amazon’s app store is based on Android. Therefore it allows developers to easily submit a build to Amazon for approval. What is particularly interesting here is that recent research shows the Amazon store users monetize better than the App Store and Google Play.
The conventional wisdom in the industry is that to be successful with mobile apps, developers should always develop for iOS first and treat Android as a secondary or tertiary goal. The odds are now changing. Android can provide developers with the perfect testing ground to hone and refine their apps. With a lower cost of customer acquisition, access to the largest smartphone market and improving monetization, you may find it makes more sense to first build a solid business on Android and then leverage those learnings to in the Apple marketplace.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and may not reflect those of Marketing Pilgrim.
Craig Palli is vice president of business development at Fiksu (@fiksu), which helps brands boost iOS and Android mobile app ranking and secure large volumes of loyal users. You can find him on Twitter @cpalli.