There's been a longstanding, though unofficial, rule that says develop for iOS first and Android second. Given Android's dominant grip on the smartphone market, perhaps it's time to reconsider than notion — especially considering the imminent arrival of Android 5.0 Lollipop and its 5,000 new APIs for developers.
The latest data from Strategy Analytics tells us Android owns 83.6% of the world's smartphone market. That's almost seven times as much market share as the second-place platform, which is Apple's iOS. Year over year, iOS lost market share, dropping from 13.4% to 12.3% during the third quarter, while Android climbed from 81.4% from the year-ago period. Five out of every six phones shipped during the third quarter had Android on board. In terms of hard numbers, Android shipments reached 268 million units, which is up from 206 million. Apple's numbers jumped from 33.8 million to 39.3 million.
"Android's leadership of the global smartphone market looks unbeatable at the moment," said Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics. "Its low-cost services and user-friendly software remain attractive to hardware makers, operators and consumers worldwide. However, challenges are emerging for Google. The Android platform is getting overcrowded with hundreds of hardware brands, Android smartphone prices are falling worldwide, and few Android device vendors make profits."
Makers of Android smartphones may find the market tough to compete in, but the story for developers is entirely different.
Google is on track to ship about 1 billion Android devices this year. You can't ask for a target market much bigger than that. That's one out of every seven people on the planet. If you're worried about growth, don't be. While Western markets, such as the U.S. and Europe, have reached a saturation point, there's obviously still huge room for opportunity in developing markets. Asia-Pacific markets represent the biggest growth and have for some time. Low-cost handset makers are seeing huge numbers from China, India and the many countries in between.
Beyond handset sales, Google is prepared to unleash its most ambitious version of Android yet. Android 5.0 Lollipop will begin to hit the market in the weeks ahead. Google has already made available several versions of the SDK, which has some 5,000 new APIs for targeting not only Android smartphones, but Android tablets, wearables and Android TV. There's never been a better time to be an Android developer.
That said, developers would do well to also target Apple products and iOS. Android and iOS together own 95% of the smartphone market. While iOS doesn't have the reach Android does, Apple is all too happy to remind developers that it has more than 100 million credit cards on file within iTunes. It has also paid out billions of dollars to app developers, and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus could tip smartphone platform numbers back toward Apple's direction.
Poor Microsoft. Its Windows Phone platform lost ground year over year, dropping from 4.1% in the third quarter of 2013 to just 3.3% in the third quarter of 2014. Despite Windows Phone's slow uptake, Microsoft has an incredible array of tools available for developers. Now that it's pitching universal apps, developers still have a good opportunity in Microsoft.